FIBA - THOMAIDIS WEIGHS OPTIONS AFTER ACHONWA BLOW
EDMONTON (FIBA World Championship for Women) - Canada women's national team coach Lisa Thomaidis has spoken of her heartache over Natalie Achonwa having to miss the FIBA World Championship for Women with a serious injury, but has paved the way for fellow WNBA draftee Michelle Plouffe to return to action with the senior team.
Achonwa had established herself as an integral part in the core rotation of the team and was bidding to play at her sixth tournament at senior level and her third on the global stage - despite still only being 21 years old.
However, her college career at Notre Dame was brought to an abrupt end after the Fighting Irish star sustained a dreaded ACL injury in an Elite Eight game against Baylor.
"When I saw Natalie go down with her injury, I was just heartbroken for her," recalled Thomaidis.
"She was playing the best basketball of her career and was poised to be a very big part of our team this summer.
"Her injury leaves an enormous gap on our team.
"But it further emphasises how important it is for us to always have a solid group of athletes in the mix and ones who can step in and fill the void when injuries occur."
Achonwa did receive an early boost at the start of her rehabilitation after being the first international player selected in the 2014 WNBA draft by the Indiana Fever.
"Natalie being drafted as the first international player to the WNBA this season was a reflection of the great year that she had," said Thomaidis.
"I was definitely thrilled for her and although she won't be able to compete for Indiana this season, I know she will be a great addition to their team next year.
"To have our national team athletes competing in the WNBA is a tremendous asset to our overall programme.
"We want our players gaining experience playing and competing at the highest level possible, so to have them in the WNBA serves that purpose."
As for Utah graduate Plouffe, she played limited minutes at London 2012 and, while she didn't feature in Mexico last year, Thomaidis is now looking at handing her a return ticket.
"Michelle Plouffe is definitely in our plans," Thomaidis said after the player was chosen by the Seattle Storm.
"She's had a tremendous collegiate career and I'm anxious to see her take her game to the WNBA.
"She's developed a great deal over the last couple of years and we're anxious to get her back into the fold of our senior team.
"She presents match-up difficulties for opponents and has continued to raise her level of play each and every year."
As for what lies in store when her team gets to Turkey, Thomaidis can't wait to get onto European soil and see how her team performs.
"Anytime you have the opportunity to play a host team at a major international tournament, you know that it's going to be an amazing experience," she mused.
"Turkey are a very formidable opponent, but when you combine that with home court advantage, it provides a unique challenge for us.
"It's one that we are all excited for."
And, having seen Group B rivals France also lose some key personnel, Thomaidis doesn't believe Les Bleues will end up being severely weakened by a couple of notable absences. She also has plenty of scope to obtain the inside track on potential replacements too, with a trio of her players all playing in the French Women's League (LFB).
She explained: "Like many basketball powers, France have a number of weapons and despite a couple of their mainstay players not playing this summer, they will have several options to fill the void with either veteran or younger athletes.
"There is no shortage of talented players in France to choose from and regardless of their roster, we will certainly be prepared.
"The French league is exceptional, so again, the experience that they gained by playing in that league is invaluable."
Canada will also go up against Mozambique in Group B.