How Canada’s women’s basketball team can punch its ticket to Tokyo

Kia-Nurse

The International Basketball Federation says it is suspending all competitions indefinitely. (Jason Franson/CP)

Thursday is a big day for basketball.

Of course, the NBA’s trade deadline is at 3 p.m. ET, and following that, later in the evening, is the NBA All-Star Draft.

But as potentially big as moves can be at a trade deadline, until we actually see tangible subsequent results on the floor, the impact of a trade is merely speculative. As for the all-star draft, you can argue that it’s a big league event, but it ultimately only affects what amounts to a glorified game of pick-up.

But if you’re looking for a hoops story with more immediate returns that do actually matter Thursday, you’ll have to look away from the NBA for a little bit.

At about 2:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada’s women’s national basketball team will begin their Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ostend, Belgium.

Here’s a primer on who’s playing for Canada, when they’re playing and why you should be trying to tune in.

Who’s playing for Canada?

Here’s a look at Team Canada’s roster in Belgium:

Canada’s women’s national team roster
Name Position Hometown Club/School
Natalie Achonwa Forward Guelph, Ont. Indiana Fever (WNBA)/Bourges (France)
Kayla Alexander Forward Milton, Ont. Chicago Sky (WNBA)
Laeticia Amihere Forward Mississauga, Ont. South Carolina (NCAA)
Mirnda Ayim Forward London, Ont. Basket Landes (France)
Bridget Carleton Guard Chatham, Ont. Minnesota Lynx (WNBA)/Townsville Fire (Australia)
Kim Gaucher Guard Mission, B.C. Mondeville (France)
Sami Hill Guard Toronto, Ont. Donau-Ries (Germany)
Miah-Marie Langlois Guard Windsor, Ont. Dynamo Novosibirsk (Russia)
Kia Nurse Guard Hamilton, Ont. New York Liberty (WNBA)/Canberra Capitals (Australia)
Shaina Pellington Guard Pickering, Ont. Arizona (NCAA)
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe Forward Toronto, Ont. New York Liberty (WNBA)/Nadezhda Orenburg (Russia)
Jamie Scott Guard Clarkston, Wash. Dynamo Novosibirsk (Russia)

If you’ve paid any attention at all to Canadian women’s hoops over the past few years, names like Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton should be familiar. Additionally, if you’ve tuned into the Summer Games within the past decade, you might recall seeing veterans like Miranda Ayim and Kim Gaucher.

This is a Canadian squad that’s laden with legitimate star power and veteran experience that’s seen the program climb to No. 4 in the world rankings and, thus, a legitimate shot at a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

But first, they’ll have to qualify for the Olympics.

How does Canada qualify for Tokyo?

Canada’s competing in one of four Olympic Qualifying Tournaments beginning Thursday, with their particular one taking place in Ostend.

Joining Canada in their OQT is host nation Belgium, Sweden and Olympic host nation Japan.

Normally the top three teams from this round-robin style tournament will earn a berth to the Olympics. But because Japan is the Olympics host, it’s already received an automatic berth and there are only two spots left up for grabs — with the two highest finishers within the group earning those berths, not counting where Japan finishes.

This, basically, means all Canada has to do is worry about World No. 9 Belgium and No. 22 Sweden and then they’ll be able to set their sights on Tokyo.

And — based on their OQT schedule — if things work out ideally, Canada will have punched its ticket to the Olympics by this Saturday as Canada will see Belgium on Thursday and then Sweden on Saturday.

Here’s a full look at the schedule:

• Feb. 6 – Canada vs. Belgium at 2:35 p.m. ET
• Feb. 8 – Canada vs. Sweden at 2:35 p.m. ET
• Feb. 9 – Canada vs. Japan at 12:05 p.m. ET

Why you should watch Canada play

As a No. 4 ranking would indicate, this Canadian squad is really good and well worth checking out.

Beyond just that, however, is that by checking out this Canadian team right now you’ll have a good shot at familiarizing yourself at most of the pieces who will be playing in Tokyo in the likely event they qualify for the Olympics this weekend.

Unlike the men’s program, which historically has had a spotty track record of consistent commitment, the women’s program has been a model of consistency and excellence with that No. 4 world ranking — and what’s probably a third-straight Olympic berth — as proof.

Therefore, by watching this team play now, you can familiarize yourself with a club that could end up being one of the best Canadian Olympic stories we’re going to see this summer.

“I think it just shows the buy-in and how dedicated we are to our national team and to Canada and to the program,” said Canadian forward Kayla Alexander in January. “We want to see Canada do well and our goal is to get a medal on that podium. … All of us are coming together to give it our all for our country.”

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