Lisa Thomaidis, coach of Canada’s senior national women’s basketball team, puts it squarely in the category of a glass-half-full experience.
She has already imagined herself in the summer of 2016 in Rio De Janeiro, Canada and the United States meeting again in medal round of the Summer Olympics.
Canada’s point guard will likely be Kia Nurse, by then 20 and an experienced rising senior at UConn. Whatever success her program would have experienced likely would be largely due to her.
And on the other side, coaching the United States again, would be Geno Auriemma, who by then would have helped Nurse develop into the world-class athlete she’d become.
What’s a coach to do?
“Yes, I’ve thought about it,” Thomaidis said Wednesday from her home in Saskatchewan, Canada. “And hopefully we will be in the gold medal game against them this time.”
It would be fair to say that Thomaidis, in her 15th season as head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, is thrilled that her future point guard will be raised by the coach of eight national championships in the United States.
“We know UConn is going to put her in the best position she can be, and by virtue of that, it will help the Canadian National progam be the best we can be,” said Thomaidis. “We are excited for her. We are ecstatic for her.”
In 2012, Canada lost to the United States in the quarterfinals of the medal round in London. And after the tournament, as often happens, new personnel was introduced.
Canada invited Nurse, just 17 years old, to attend training camp, aware of who she was, interested in how she would react.
“I remember her leaning against the wall, very quiet, because she knew she was there primarily “for the experience.” But within two hours she had already let her play do the talking for her,” said Thomaidis.
“After the second day, the decision to keep her [for the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship] became pretty clear. She showed right away what she could bring. Her defense, her foot speed, immediately caught our attention. And it’s not like it surprised us because we’d known about her for a long time.We were just curious as to whether she had the maturity and the readiness to lead a team.”
That team, with players as old as 31, that included Notre Dame senior Natalie Achonwa and former Vermont guard Courtnay Pilyapaitis, now an assistant coach at Vermont, finished second to Cuba.
“Timing was everything for Kia,” said Thomaidis. “We were just entering the first year of the new Olympic quadrennial, already knowing she would be the point guard of our future.
“So we thought, let’s bring her in sooner rather than later. Why not do it now, give her the extra experience to help make the team better and gain confidence in her in running to show.”
One of those who came to watch Nurse play in Mexico was Auriemma.
“I knew he’d taken great interest in Kia and wanted to see her play against great competition,” said Thomaidis. “His being there was clearly indicative of how much he liked her and it gave him a chance to judge whether she’d be able to play at UConn. And it gave Kia a chance to see how serious UConn was in her.”
Thomaidis said UConn is getting an extremely driven player in Nurse, one who plays older than her years.
“She is a very driven, very focused. She doesn’t allow herself to get caught up in the hype that surrounds her,” said Thomaidis. “She has many goals, individually and for her team. That’s her priority. She considers all of the other things peripheral. She is a fierce – fierce – competitor.
“When Kia was growing up, she was never told she was the best. She was told you have to work harder than anyone else. That has really served her well. You see it every day in her work ethic, the level of competitiveness. Those intangibles are the ones that are going to give a player a chance to be great.
“On the court [at FIBA] you would have never known there was an age gap. She is very mature for her age and I think it’s because she has been around so many elite athletes in her life. She knows how to conduct herself.”
On Wednesday, UConn made official the signings of Nurse and three other guards, Courtney Ekmark, Sadie Edwards and Gabby Williams, to the Class of 2014.
As Thomaidis predicted, Nurse wasn’t ready to talk about her emotions other than tweeting this:
“Thank you to everyone for all the support after the last couple of days! I really appreciate all the messages love you all.” Nurse said. “ don’t have anything to say I’m currently focusing on my provincial finals [in Onatrio}.”