By Doug Smith
September 3, 2018
Miranda Ayim, two-time Olympian and a mainstay on the national basketball teamfor almost a decade, is quick to point out the all-around change the program has undergone in recent years.
Much has been made about backcourt speed and athleticism, both offensively and defensively among the guards, until Ayim makes her case for the team’s frontcourt as well.
“The guards are quite dynamic, but our posts are very dynamic as well, so all across the board we’re super-athletic at a level we haven’t been before,” the 30-year-old from London, Ont., said during the national team’s training camp at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Ayim’s point is well taken. She, fellow veteran wing Kim Gaucher and emerging frontcourt stalwart Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe are Olympic and world championship veterans with a high measure of athleticism that fits into the team’s desired style of play. With Natalie Achonwa, Michelle and Katherine Plouffe, Ruth Hamblin, Kayla Alexander, Jamie Scott and Sami Hill, there is more quickness and athleticism than maybe ever before.
“I think just our entire style of play, offensively and defensively, has taken a shift. We’re probably more like a team set in offence. We’re looking to run more like an American style and play more athletic, and use our athleticism as a strength,” point guard Nirra Fields said.
The Canadian team still wants to measure itself by defensive ability — the reason they’ve risen to No. 5 in the world rankings heading into the world championship in Spain later this month — but now if the women have to get into a shootout, they feel comfortable they can.
“We see a big part of our strength being our team speed,” said Lisa Thomaidis, the team’s head coach. “A great number of our athletes are great athletes and we have solid team speed, and now we’re trying to play that way. We hadn’t really done that until last year. We started putting our (foot) on the gas a little bit and seeing what kind of systems we can implement that way … We can do that, and now we have to continue to grow and see where we can go with it.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that Canada couldn’t survive a game in the 75-point range because the offence was limited. It was to their credit, under then-coach Allison McNeill, that they were to able to ride a tenacious defence and Princeton-style offence to a top-eight finish at the 2012 London Olympics.
But the emergence of young players and increased experience of veterans who all play in the top leagues in the world has given Canada a new look — and a new worldwide respect.
“We have so many tools that we can use, and we still have our trademark defence that Canada has always been known for,” said Ayim. “That’s one thing that sets Canada apart from a lot of other teams.
“We have offensive threats now and we’re still able to carry over the defence that has been a core part of our culture for years. We still would like to keep our opponent to around that area (60s) — that’s the goal — but yes, we’re able to compete at that offence level now.”
Canada wraps up its final training camp on Tuesday at Ryerson’s downtown facility before embarking on a tough pre-worlds exhibition tour. They play Japan and the gold standard, the United States, on Friday and Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn. before heading to France for a final tuneup event against the hosts, the U.S. and Senegal.