Canadian basketball star Kia Nurse continues to push herself with lofty goals

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Canada's Kia Nurse brings the ball up the court during Olympic action in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Canada's Kia Nurse brings the ball up the court during Olympic action in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Turning 25, living out a quarter century of life, puts most people in a weird predicament of knowing they’re too young to have really “lived”, but old enough that their lives should be somewhat put together enough to have something to show for what they’ve accomplished so far.

For Kia Nurse, her 25th year has been one of many firsts, many changes, many successes, and many heartbreaks. In her second Olympic Games – after competing in her first at age 20, Nurse very well felt the weight of the world on her shoulders.

As a breakout player in Rio, leading Canada to a seventh-place finish averaging 11 points per game, Nurse broke onto the Olympic scene before she had even stepped onto a WNBA court or even finished college.

Nurse’s expectations for herself were always high, from playing as the coach’s kid with her father leading the charge as a teen, to being recruited to the University of Connecticut where Geno Auriemma breeds the best players in basketball, to being drafted 10th overall by the New York Liberty in 2018.

Heading into the Tokyo Olympics, the expectations were higher – Canada’s women’s program was ranked fourth in the world heading in, despite only six players returning from the Rio Games and being replaced by much younger and inexperienced players who would be looking to recreate the same style of play Nurse had five years prior – but the team were all willing to make it work.

“Canada Basketball always tries to make that transition as easy as possible, I’m grateful that we’ve had a lot of time together over the last four years even if it’s only a week here or there to a tournament,” said Nurse.

“We’re really lucky, it’s special on the women’s side that we have such loyalty and buy-in that it seems like every time Canada Basketball calls, everyone comes, whether it’s from their WNBA seasons or playing overseas we get to build that bond.”

In a tough group with Korea, Serbia and a top-ranked Spain team, Canada’s assignment would not be easy, but making it to the podium seemed within reach. But after a four-point loss to Serbia – even off a 16-point performance from Nurse – Canada’s fate remained out of its hands.

Canada’s program had grown because of players like Nurse, with Aaliyah Edwards following in her footsteps as the next Canadian at UConn who had her sights set on the WNBA, and the talent pool surrounding women’s basketball at the national level growing due to her exposure.

The senior national team was already coming off a fourth-place finish at the AmeriCup, a tournament in which they were without Nurse, yet were still expected to finish in the top two with the Unites States, but instead fell to fourth with back-to-back losses at the hand of Puerto Rico and Brazil.

So when the losses grew to two after being unable to get the job done against Spain, and the fate of Canada’s chances at a podium in the hands of Australia and Puerto Rico, Nurse took it personally.

“It’s been a process to come to terms with what actually did happen," said Nurse. "We did fall short, it’s something that we have to live with and is our reality at this point – I think we were a lot better than we showed and we should have had a shot at that quarterfinal game had we put ourselves in a better situation.

“I did grow in a lot of different ways, in my leadership role on and off the court, but still obviously disappointed in the finish and will use it to try and motivate me for hopefully the next time.”

Ultimately Australia won by 27 – winning by any less than 24 would’ve sent Canada to the quarterfinals as the best of the “lucky losers” — and Nurse contemplated what more she could have done in order to help her team get to the next level.

SAITAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 01: Members of Team Canada huddle during the second half of a Women's Basketball Preliminary Round Group A game against Spain at Saitama Super Arena on August 01, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Team Canada failed to reach the podium in Tokyo. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Her almost unreal expectations rise beyond basketball, too. In her 2020 offseason, Nurse took on the role of covering not only the WNBA finals, but also doing work for the NBA, including being part of the first ever all-female broadcast team calling a Toronto Raptors game.

Faced with the schedule of completing half of her first WNBA season in Phoenix, flying to Tampa, Fla., for Team Canada training camp – a team she had not competed with since 2020 – and then making it to Tokyo all within two weeks, Nurse still had time to uplift other Olympians and her team around her with her partnership with Cadillac Fairview to bring eyes to females in sport who don’t always get the eyes they should.

“The team that I have around me, they figure out my schedule in terms of being able to broadcast and also train at the same time, and obviously have a life outside of basketball as well,” said Nurse.

“I’m really grateful to have them to find me sponsorships like CF, they support us so well. I’m from Hamilton and they have CF Limeridge there, they supported female athletes like female Olympians on the Canadian team and that’s important to bring eyes to that.”

Now, with just three years until the next Olympic Games, and the retirement of prominent Canadian players like Miranda Ayim, Nurse is hoping to lead the next generation of Canadians to a podium in Paris.

Being a two-time Olympian is something that most people will never achieve in their life, but Nurse doesn’t only want to make it to a third, but to continue to shatter glass ceilings as a woman in the world of basketball.

If her continuous journey upwards wasn’t already an indicator, Nurse wants to leave her legacy not only on the Canadian women’s program, but also prove to herself that her big dreams are always achievable by bringing home hardware from the next Games.

But it’s not just about a gold medal, or the winning feeling, but proof that a kid from Hamilton, Ont., with a dream of changing the face of women’s basketball for Canadians was always within her reach.

“It’s a really long process to qualify for the Olympics and I think that’s something that often goes unnoticed by those who don’t have to go through it," said Nurse. "It’s tournament after tournament and you don’t really know who you’re going to end up playing so every step we take, there’s little goals within there.

“Once Paris 2024 comes around, my personal goal is to find a way to get on that podium and get a medal. As an athlete I’m pretty competitive, I blame my family for that – it’s great to be a two-time Olympian and have that to my name and legacy, but at some point I feel like I want something that I can show for it and I know a medal is going to be the thing we are all striving to get.”

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