WNBA

December's Canadian Round-Up: Kia Nurse Q&A, Keeping up with the Canadians, Chantal Vallee makes history

Canadian Roundup

Keeping up with the Canadians

Natalie Achonwa, who's playing in China in the WCBA for the Jiangsu Phoenix won player of the week honours for round 16. Achonwa is averaging a double-double of 23.4 points, 10.4 rebounds per game for the Phoenix. They currently sit in third place in the 18-team league with a 12-3 record.

MORE: November's Canadian Round-Up: Is Dwight Powell underrated? Q&A with former national team member Carl English

Kayla Alexander is in Australia playing in the WNBL for the Adelaide Lightning. She's averaging 11 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game in eight games. The Lightning are 4-6 on the season two games out of a playoff spot with two games in hand on the fourth-placed Bendigo Spirit. If you're wondering how the battle of the Canadians has gone so far in Australia between Alexander and Kia Nurse, the series is tied at 1-1. Nurse's Capitals got the win in the first game between the two teams as she finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Alexander did not play in that meeting, but she made up for it in the second game where she went for a double-double of her own (17 points, 13 boards). The two Canadians will play one more time on December 14th.

Adut Bulgak is averaging 6.0 points, 8.0 rebounds in league play for Nadezhda Orenburg in Russia. Her numbers in Euroleague play jump up to 9.4 points per game and she's shooting 50% from three. Nadezhda Orenburg is 5-1 in league play but struggling at just 1-3 in the Euroleague so far.

Michelle and Katherine Plouffe hold bragging rights at the moment over the scores of Canadians playing in France at the moment as their teams are tied at the top of the French LFB. Michelle's Lyon side has a 6-1 record tied with Katherine and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe's Bourges team. Miranda Ayim is the leading Canadian scorer in the league averaging 13.5 points good for top 20 in a really competitive league.

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Sure Not Now

Making history

Last month Chantal Vallee was named as head coach and general manager of the Hamilton Honey Badgers in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL). She's the first women in history to hold both positions in a men's pro league and only the second to be named head coach of a men's pro team. Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was the first when she coached in the NBA G-League in 2010-11.

Vallee has built one of the most powerful programs in Canadian sport leading the University of Windsor to five straight national championships from 2011 to 2015. She collected USports Coach of the Year honours twice and has collected over 20 awards in her time with Windsor.

"I am honoured and excited to be taking on the challenge of serving as Head Coach and General Manager of the Hamilton Honey Badgers in the first year of Canada's new professional basketball league," Vallée said in a press release. "We are at an unprecedented time of growth for basketball across Canada."

The CEBL is set to begin play in May 2019.

Canadian Round-Up Q&A: Kia Nurse

Kia Nurse has had a busy rookie year as a professional. After completing her first season in the WNBA where she averaged 9.1 points coming off the bench for the New York Liberty, she jumped straight into National team duties helping Canada finish seventh at the FIBA 2018 Women's Basketball World Cup in Spain. Now she's currently in Australia playing for the UC Capitals on the WNBL.

Nurse's Capitals currently sit third in the league with a 6-4 record and only two games behind first-place Perth. The top four teams of the eight-team league make it to the playoffs or finals as they call it in Australia. Both the semi-finals and Grand-Final (championship series) are played in a best of three format.

Nurse is top five in league scoring averaging 18.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game - good numbers on the glass for a guard.

She took the time to talk about her rookie year, the World Cup and more with NBA.com in this month's Canadian Round-Up Q&A.

NBA.com: After playing in the WNBA, playing for Canada in the World Cup and now playing pro in Australia do you still consider yourself a rookie?

Kia Nurse: You know what's really weird I try not to think about it in those senses but then I have rookie duties wherever I go so I'm like "ok maybe I am a rookie still." (Laughing) Some days I'm like this is probably the last time I'll ever have to be rookie so that's really nice but obviously for me trying to understand from where I've been in terms of I'm coming to the WNBA this year as a rookie but I've played in an Olympics, I've played at the highest level of basketball there possibly is in two World Championships. What I try to do is bring everything that I've learned from there and understanding that each and every night in the league I'm going to play some of the best players in the world and how do I use what I've learned in those past experiences that I've had to make myself a presence within the league in the first year and I think for me that was something I was always fortunate enough to have in terms of my confidence going into game and my confidence going into the league was probably a little bit higher than a normal rookie's confidence because I had been in those situations before and I knew I could play kind of more freely.

NBA.com: What was your welcome to the WNBA moment?

KN: I had a couple of them (laughs). I think one of those was when I moved to the league I kind of shifted positions from two to three and I played a lot more at the three. I'm kind of a weird player because I played the point in college, I played the two in college and then once I got to the league they were like "oh we're going to play you more at the three"…and I was like "ohhh that's fine" but in the league the threes are huge. So Maya Moore was one of my matchups one night and I was like "ohhh this is going to be fun"…and she scored pretty much every single time I was guarding her. I was like "well you know I thought it was a tough shot but it might not have been a tough shot but we're just going to have to deal with it" (laughs)…so that was probably one of the biggest welcome to the league moments.

The other one would have to be in practice we played one-on-one and a girl on my team named Sugar Rodgers - she shoots the ball extremely well but she's also very shifty and crafty so as soon as you get up in her space she uses a lot of jabs and pivots…and she torched me all practice long so that was also a welcome to the league. (laughs)

NBA.com: Now that you've gone through it, even though you basically went straight into national team duties and now playing in Australia - have you had an opportunity at all to look back and appreciate what you did in the first year at all?

KN: I think it's more happening now because I have so much free time over here in Australia outside of you know the practices and the games…now when I look back and you see the flashbacks on WNBA social media that they're doing right now I think one or two weeks ago there was a flashback of my season and I was like "oh yea! That all happened"…I was drafted, I did all this and played against the best in the world on a nightly basis in one of the best cities in the states and I think that was a lot of fun for me and it's kind of sinking in…I think one of my teammates here looked at me and was like "I look at you and I think that we're one of the older vet players on our team and I forget that you're just 22" and I'm like "yup I act like a kid I'm still just 22"…she likes it just feels like you had to go up so much faster than any of us did here and I think that's interesting and it kind of made me stop and think about how fortunate I am to have been in that situation at such a young age.

NBA.com: Playing in the World Cup this year, there were hopes of Canada landing on the podium but finished in seventh... after playing in that event do you feel more confident of Canada finishing on the podium in a future event?

KN: Yeah absolutely. I think from the first World Championships that I played in, to the one we played in this year, there's been such a difference in the team and the players that we have and how we've all developed individually and collectively. The offensive systems and defensive systems that we're in now are completely different than the ones we were in four years ago and I think that kind of allowed us to propel ourselves a little bit further within this competition.

Yes, we placed better in the first World Championships and we didn't reach the goals that we wanted to essentially within this one in terms of placing on the podium…but I think if you look at our team we're really young. We have a lot of talent that's continuing to get better and the world championships itself is kind of a great benchmark - two years into a four-year window - everything we do with the national team is based on the four years to get to the Olympics. It's a great measuring stick for where we are to, play Spain…the unfortunate crossover which we got in that semi-finals…to finally win a pool at a World Championships…to play Spain to the fourth quarter where we were tied with them and they just happened to make more shots than we did in that last 10 minutes…that says a lot for our team to have been there and to go into the next summer in the FIBA Americas to try to qualify for the Olympics…and then hopefully finishing that off and getting ready to go in 2020.

NBA.com: You led the team in scoring and assists so someone like yourself got a lot of attention coming out of that tournament, but do you feel like there was someone that might have flown under the radar and contributed to some of the success that you girls had that maybe most people aren't paying enough attention too?

KN: I think what's interesting about teams like our national team and national teams around the world…you see this in the NBA and WNBA as well is that so many people will look at one or two players from a team and say ok that's all you need to know about that team…when essentially without the others or without certain people on the floor at a certain time our team doesn't kind of play as well as they could.

I think in our World Championships, people got a little glimpse of it towards the end but Shay Colley who's finishing up college this year at Michigan State - she did a number of things for us on the court whether that be from the point guard position facilitating and getting people the ball where they needed it…or having to be a scorer of having to be an offensive threat and I think that was something that she did extremely well and she came out and kind of had a here I am moment at the Worlds and I think that's something special…the fact that we're the same age she's also 22 that's going to be a great position for us in the coming years considering she's got so much time to be a part of our team.

NBA.com: Do you keep in touch with the other often? Do you girls have a group chat?

KN: We have a WhatsApp group chat and here and there some funny stuff will come up….you know you try to keep up with what's going on…obviously the ones who are in Europe see each other more often. Apparently, France is the place for Canadians (laughs) we have a ton of Canadians in France. They catch up pretty often so you see pictures of that. We try...when we get back home from overseas if we have an opportunity to see one another we try to do that as well.

NBA.com: What gets the group chat fired up? Who's dropping the funny memes that has the group chat on fire?

KN: There's this really random birthday selfie thing that happens, so when it's somebody's birthday everybody sends a selfie of themselves to the person (who's birthday it is) in the group chat so it's actually very entertaining.

Natalie Achowa usually keeps us up to date with what's going on with memes and whether she's wearing black shoes with black socks (laughs) so we just keep it light in there.

NBA.com: How's Australia?

KN: Australia is amazing…the country itself is beautiful. I love the fact that the transition here was so easy just because they speak English, they say some funny words I'll give you that…but they speak English. The food is normal, it's very similar to Canada, I see it more similar to Canada than it is to America. I think for me that was a big part of…first year overseas I want to go somewhere I know I'm going to be comfortable. For (playing) overseas, every situation was never going to be perfect but in a situation like this, there's likely more that could go right than can go wrong. My team has been great we have a really good mix of older players and younger players and I think that's something that helps us, we get along really well and have a lot of fun on the road.

NBA.com: After playing as much as you have, WNBA, the World and now WNBL when do you have time for skill development? How does that look for you?

KN: For most of the seasons that I'm in it's definitely a little bit tough because you want to figure out ways to make sure your body is fine and that you're resting and that mentally you're not hitting any type of wall. One thing I really had to learn in my training was to work smarter and not harder. So it's not necessarily going into the gym to work three hours a day to do skill work it's if I go into the gym for 20 minutes or I make 250 shots whichever one comes first. It's kind of giving yourself goals to make sure that you're working in a smart manner. So for me this season I'm fortunate to have a short season so I'll be home at the end of February and I'll be able to do a bunch of skill work than and work with trainers and be ready for the WNBA season that comes around. But when you're in season you're days off aren't really days off you kind of find ways to get into the gym or find ways to keep your body moving so that your skills remain up to date.

NBA.com: You recently announced your AAU team that will hit the AAU circuit this summer, how did that happen? How involved will you be?

KN: For me part of where I've been in the last couple years especially since Pan Ams happened I feel like I've got more of a responsibility and put more of a responsibility on myself to try and find ways to help young women have the same opportunities that I did when I was growing up. If they want to go to the states they have an opportunity to go to the states, if they want to play in Canada they have the opportunity to play in Canada.

For me, it's always been a big part of (using) my platform to try and give back to the sport that's given me so much and NIKE has helped bring that to life with the Kia Nurse Elite that's going to be repping this summer in the EYBL circuit. I'm going to try and be involved as much as possible in terms of being at practices, running some clinics, being involved in any way I can - which might be a little difficult because the WNBA season runs the exact same time as AAU but it's something that my family has really helped put together. My Dad has taken a big role in stepping up and helping out with that - he's a huge basketball guy as well been a coach for my entire life and my sister's entire life, so pretty much his whole existence. I think it will be really fun for the girls who get the opportunity to try and give it their best.

NBA.com: You spoke about it a little bit there, but how important is it to you to be a role model not only just in Canada but across the world?

KN: I mean it's huge I think when I was in college at UConn I was talking to my academic advisor I said I want to do something that's based in sports. I was a business student and I said where does it fall anywhere into sports and she said: "well they moved it to a different school so you have to figure that out". We had a program there that allows you to do an individualized major and I had to stand in front of the board and tell them why I wanted to create a major around sports and media - and one of the first things I said to them was when I grew up we didn't have Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat. We didn't have all this social media, we really just had instant messager and facebook, but when you were on there you didn't really have the opportunity to see any real female role models.

I didn't see any women's basketball players on TV so my sister was my biggest role model. Now we have opportunities where we can allow young women to see their favourite role model, interact with them in different ways on social media and for me I'm taking that as a huge responsibility understanding that my job is only complete as a basketball player or my career or legacy is complete if one young person - especially one young girl decides that she wants to play a sport. Doesn't have to be basketball, I think sports has so much more benefits than just winning and losing…all the life skills that you can take from it, the confidence that you gain, the communication skills, the teamwork skills if one kid decides that they want to play a sport whether it be an AAU version of a sport or just go outside and play soccer with some friends on the street then I think my job has been done. That's something that's been really big for me and that's why I take it as a huge responsibility to be a role model.

NBA.com: Last one here for you Kia, do you think it's time that Canada has a WNBA team?

KN: I know that it's a tough situation to be in, I know there's a lot that goes into bringing a team to an entirely different country, an entirely different market. Right now, I would love a team in Canada, obviously, it's a little bit closer to everybody I know (laughs)…playing there that's a lot of tickets I would have to get….but it would be amazing to have a team there. I think right now with the way that the Raptors are playing, the way that they've been playing over the last couple of years there such a market for basketball in Canada. You see it in Jurassic Park you see it everywhere you go and I think that's something that's really exciting.

Part of the big issue with Canadian basketball on the women's side is visibility. People don't see women's basketball. I think one of my Final Fours was on T.V. My grandparents got to see me play in a UConn uniform probably two or three times and probably online. So little girls don't get to see that and I think if you had a team in Toronto for the WNBA you're reaching out to another group of young people who have an opportunity to play a sport or fall in love with a sport and only continue to grow the game in Canada. I would love it I know there's a lot that goes into it, it's very difficult to do at the snap of a finger but I would be all for it.

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