Time for Canada to unleash Amihere, Edwards after loss to Serbia in opener

Serbia's Nevena Jovanovic (8) drives up court ahead of Canada's Laeticia Amihere during a women's basketball preliminary round game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (Charlie Neibergall / AP)

The Canadian women’s national basketball team kicked off their Tokyo Olympic Games on Monday with a 72-68 loss to Serbia.

A lamentable showing as it now puts a ton of pressure on Canada to at least win its next game against South Korea and then keep things tight or outright defeat Spain in its final contest of group play to advance to the quarterfinals.

Against Serbia, Canada shot the ball very poorly, going 38.1 per cent from the field and just 5-of-24 from deep.

A weakness of this Canadian squad coming into the Games was a lack of marksmanship from deep, and it showed against Serbia.

But heading into its next game against South Korea, there still shouldn’t be any panic. Because while range from outside isn’t exactly this team’s forte, there are still plenty of advantages Canada can turn, such as its athletic edge over just about every team at the Olympics, with the exception of the United States.

In particular, Canada could have a real advantage in the form of a couple of youngsters who made their Olympic debuts against Serbia.

Twenty-year-old Laeticia Amihere and 19-year-old Aaliyah Edwards are long, athletic players who can do a multitude of things on the floor and appear to be the future of the Canadian national team’s program.

However, given their talents and the hole Canada finds itself in already, that future may just have to be right now.

Amihere and Edwards are listed at six-foot-four and six-foot-three, respectively, and have tremendous strength going to the basket. Additionally, despite their size, they can both run the floor as well as any guard and, in the case of Amihere, even have some range to take and make shots from outside.

Though it might seem a little desperate, it might just be time to unleash the kids.

“I think it’s athleticism, versatility, competitiveness, relentlessness and energy,” said Edwards before the Games began last week of what she brings to the team. “Those are some of the core things I pride myself on as an athlete and I bring to the court.

“So whether it’s the little things like getting a steal, taking a charge or grabbing a rebound or, offensively, getting and-ones, attacking the basket, I think just bringing that energy and raising the level here at the Olympics would just be who I am as a player.”

It’s a big game that Edwards was talking, but also a factual one. She and Amihere both play a similar all-out style of game that’s predicated on interior play first, something that may better suit the roster of this Canadian team and force it to look inside more often, rather than try to bomb away from outside.

In particular, Amihere has potential to be a real game-changer for Canada. During the FIBA AmeriCup earlier this summer she was probably Canada’s best player. And while she did get quite a bit of burn for Canada against Serbia – she played 17 minutes – she was only afforded the opportunity to take four field-goal attempts.

Moving forward with this tournament, it might be in Canada’s best interest to get her more touches and opportunities because, despite entering just her third year at South Carolina next season, Amihere’s talent is so immense that there’s an argument to be made that she’s already one of the best players on this Canadian squad.

At the very least, more opportunity for Amihere shouldn’t phase her in the slightest. Not after all she’s been through just to make it to this point.

She burst onto the national scene as a 15-year-old by dunking in an Ontario Basketball game, and from there just saw her star rise getting recruited to Dawn Staley’s highly coveted Gamecocks program. But then she hit a major setback. Amihere has had to battle through two significant knee injuries, which have limited her productivity while at South Carolina, but this summer she’s looked much more like her old, explosive self, and now Canada should reap the rewards of that.

“Oh yeah, of course, a lot of dark days, but a lot of people have been telling me this, coach Dawn told me this when I got hurt the second time, 'That this is all going to be part of my testimony,'” said Amihere. “Obviously, when you get hurt and when you go through trials, the first time that happens you get a shock, you’re in a period of shock and all you can think about is negatives, but being able to see as it being a bump in my road is something that has been very helpful for me.

“Every single time when I was training, when I got my first knee injury, I was training and when things would get hard I would just say, ‘Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo Olympics.’ And this is something I kept really strong in my mind because it’s something to look forward to, something to push towards and now I’m here. So it’s kind of just like all of the hard work that I put in to persevere through two knee injuries you get the benefit and you get the fruit of all the work that you put in.”

And for Edwards, while she didn’t go through the same circumstances as Amihere to make it to this point, her goal of reaching the Olympics remained just steadfast.

But just being at the Games and trying to earn a medal are different things, and in order to do the latter, judging from Canada’s first performance against Serbia, this is a team that needs to find ways to get better, more efficient offence.

And that solution just might lie with the two youngest members on the team.

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