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Nurse, Achonwa headline Canadian women's basketball team for Paris Olympics

Canada Australia Kia Nurse Ezi Magbegor - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The excitement and readiness was evident as Kayla Alexander looked ahead to the Paris Olympics.

Alexander, Natalie Achonwa and Kia Nurse headline the Canadian women's basketball team announced Tuesday morning. It will be Alexander's second Olympics but first time with spectators as the Tokyo Games took place in 2021 during the pandemic.

"Same level of excitement, for sure," a beaming Alexander said at the Canadian Olympic Committee offices. "Feels different because the last one was COVID so didn't have the full experience, I'm looking forward to having that this time around.

"But the joy and excitement and just the privilege of being able to represent your country, that never changes. That's still something that I'm just overflowing with right now."

The fifth-ranked Canadians qualified for the Games back in February at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Hungary. Canada went 1-2 but was helped out by fourth-ranked Spain defeating host Hungary 73-72 in the final game of the tournament.

"We know we were honestly like two seconds away (from) not making the Olympics," said guard Nirra Fields, who will be appearing in her third Olympics.

"So going in with that mindset knowing that we are grateful to be here and we almost didn't make it, to have that chip on our shoulders going in, I think that's going to be the mindset and to really take advantage of this moment."

It will be the fourth straight Games the women have qualified for. Canada is in Group B alongside third-ranked Australia, host and seventh-ranked France and 12th-ranked Nigeria.

The tournament is scheduled to run from July 28 to Aug. 11, with the group phase to be played in Lille, France. The top two teams from each group and the two best third-place teams qualify for the final phase, which will be held in Paris.

Canada, which opens the tournament July 29 against France, is looking to redeem itself after a disappointing ninth-place finish in Tokyo.

Since then, Canada placed fourth at the World Cup in 2022 and took bronze at the AmeriCup in 2023. The fourth-place result at the World Cup was Canada's best since a bronze-medal showing in 1986.

"We're definitely hungry," guard Sami Hill said. "It's been our goal, we've set it since the last Olympics, and especially since World Cup when we got a taste of the semifinals and then super close to the bronze medal and finished fourth.

"We have our sights set on being on the podium and we're going to do everything we can to get there."

The group is expected to be at full strength, a first in some time. Canada is often missing players at tournaments due to professional or school commitments or injury.

"We feel great, we really do," assistant coach Steve Baur said. "I think the World Cup was a big showing for us, we had a chance to play on that stage and finish fourth. And at that time, we were still missing a couple key pieces.

"Aaliyah (Edwards) wasn't able to with some school conflicts, Kia was still not 100 per cent herself. Our health is actually a really big step for what we're hoping could catapult us from our performance at the World Cup into the Olympic Games."

The roster boasts a mix of veterans and youth.

Achonwa, who is set to become the first Canadian women's basketball player to appear in her fourth Games, is one of eight on the team with previous Olympic experience. She is also one of five WNBA players along with Nurse, Edwards, Laeticia Amihere and Bridget Carleton.

Meanwhile, guard Syla Swords is making her first Olympic appearance at 18 years old, having just finished high school. Swords is a five-star recruit that's heading to Michigan in the fall, while former five-star recruit and Notre Dame sophomore Cassandre Prosper also made the roster.

"Honestly, I think we still have that great chemistry together," Alexander said of the first-time Olympians. "The new additions, I think, are amazing.

"We have such a talented squad and I think it's going to help us continue to build and be stronger going into Paris."


Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ont.); Kayla Alexander (Milton, Ont.); Laeticia Amihere (Mississauga, Ont.); Bridget Carleton (Chatham, Ont.); Shay Colley (Brampton, Ont.); Aaliyah Edwards (Kingston, Ont.); Yvonne Ejim (Calgary); Nirra Fields (Montreal); Sami Hill (Toronto); Kia Nurse (Hamilton); Cassandre Prosper (Montreal);

Syla Swords (Sudbury, Ont.)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2024.