Lynx F Carleton gets full circle moment with WNBA's first-ever game in Canada
TORONTO — The WNBA’s first-ever game in Canada is a full circle moment for Bridget Carleton.
The Chatham, Ont., native will be suiting up for the Minnesota Lynx on Saturday against the Chicago Sky at Scotiabank Arena. The pre-season contest on home soil is one that brings back memories of the journey that's led the six-foot-one forward to this point.
“I think growing up, I never really even dreamed about playing in the WNBA," Carleton, 25, told The Canadian Press. "I didn't think I was going to be that good, I think because I knew it was such a small league and only the best of the best, so I was always just kind of focused on college and Team Canada and the Olympics.
"A lot of people still live in Toronto who have helped me get to where I am and they always believed in me … So a huge credit to them for seeing things in me that I didn't see and to get me to where I am today and (it) kind of comes full circle."
Carleton returned to Minnesota on Monday after her season with Perfumerias Avenida in Spain.
Perfumerias was swept by Valencia in the best-of-three league final, losing 81-69 in Game 2 on Sunday. Had the team forced a Game 3 on Thursday, Carleton would have had to fly to Toronto from Spain on Friday.
“It's been a lot. Obviously just an exciting time, but also exhausting," she said. "So I'm glad it all worked out. I can get a couple of practices in before the Canada game, but yeah, it's been kind of like one day at a time."
Being able to play in the game wasn’t initially a surefire deal for Carleton. She was a free agent at the time of the WNBA's announcement for the game on Jan. 18.
“I was just excited in general that the WNBA was going to experience Canada and that the Canadians were going to experience the WNBA," she said. "So two of my worlds colliding.
"And then when I re-signed in Minnesota during free agency, obviously that's when it settled in like, ‘OK, I'm playing in this game. That's pretty surreal.’"
Talk surrounding the WNBA and a potential expansion team in Toronto has carried on for some years now. Carleton believes the league is overdue on expanding.
“It's only 12 teams, 12 roster spots, and oftentimes less than that because teams only keep 11 players," she said. "And there's way more talent out there that deserves to be in this league. I think Toronto is a great market for it. I think this weekend, you know, selling out Scotiabank Arena … the numbers are proving that people are excited about basketball."
Carleton's teammate Kayla McBride, who hails from Erie, Penn., says she was shocked by the excitement for the pre-season game.
"Because for me, growing up in America, I knew the Raptors and I knew that they got the hype and watching the finals and seeing how packed the arena was," McBride said Friday during a press conference.
"I'm really, really excited to actually be in the arena (Saturday) and feel the energy. I'm definitely surprised but I feel like I'll be more surprised (Saturday)."
Carleton hopes the game turns into “the changing moment for us.”
“When I grew up, I didn't have access to watch WNBA," she said. "It wasn't easily accessible, I didn't know about it. I knew about it, but it wasn't like on the front of my mind because, you know, social media wasn't as big back then.
"But to have a WNBA team, a professional women's team in Toronto, would be just amazing for the community. For women to show that we can be successful as athletes, to show everyone that and not just other little girls, but little boys because they're going to grow up to be men one day who are oftentimes making big decisions in positions."
The WNBA regular season begins May 19 and the Canadian, entering her fifth season, has her eyes set on helping Minnesota bounce back from a 14-22 season that saw the Lynx fall one game short of a post-season spot.
Carleton, who averaged 4.3 points and 16.8 minutes per game primarily coming off the bench last year, also sees an opportunity to level up individually.
“I've always been a pretty steady player," she said. "You kind of know what to expect from me, which, you know, I love and I will continue to do that, but just taking more risks, being more aggressive, being more assertive.
"I've had enough experience in the league where I know what I can do at this level, so just getting to those spots a little bit more … and helping the team in any way I can."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2023.