So begins another summer and another season. We’ve made the transition from our professional team environment to the Canadian national team. There was a week or less to spend with family and friends after returning from overseas and before joining our teammates and staff. We arrived in Edmonton, Alberta in May to some new faces, but most are familiar. The hotel, the gym, the schedule, everything is the same – with one exception: it’s an Olympic year.
The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics has been looming for four years, more palpably, though, after qualifying last year on home soil at the Saville Center in Edmonton. The work has been ongoing, not just for these past few years, but throughout each athlete’s career. There is also the strategy built by the coaches, the organization of support staff and everything else that goes into preparing for an event such as this. There’s a development of a cultural and work ethic, and certain expectations that arise alongside that. There’s the defense we’ve always hung our hat on, and the offense that we’ve developed. Implemented by Allison and Mike NcNeil and expanded on by Lisa Thomaidis, this offense (popularly known as Princeton offence) took our team to the next level. Alongside seasoned veterans and fresh talent, we’ve been picking up steam and claiming many victories on the world stage.
Although the incline has been consistent and gradual, I believe the 2012 London Olympics was when many began to notice that we were a team to watch. We brought a methodical, yet passionate style of play that had not been seen before. Unfortunately, we crossed over with the United States after pool play, which brought our Olympic run to an end. However, we exceeded most expectations by making it to the quarter-finals of the tournament.
The casual observer doesn’t realize that each year there is a tournament and qualification process. In 2013, after the London Olympics, we placed second in the FIBA Americas tournament in Xalapa, Mexico, falling short of our goal to win it all, but gaining a bid to the 2014 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. The World Championships is a fantastic tournament. It’s thrilling to play against the best teams in the world. The gold-winning team from that tournament earns a direct bid to the Olympics. We finished fifth, making it a historic summer for Canada as we hadn’t finished that high in a world championship in over 18 years. The summer of 2015 brought us to Canada for both the Pan American tournament in Toronto and the FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifier in Edmonton. We finished that summer undefeated, winning gold in both tournaments.
That brings us to the summer of 2016—the Olympic year—the time when everyone remembers that there are professional athletes making a living from sports outside of the NBA, NFL, NHL, etc. All these inspiring people who have been working in the dark are able to show everything they’ve trained so hard to create. It’s beautiful.