TORONTO (FIBA U17 World Championship For Women) - Canada will be one of eight teams making their second appearance at the FIBA U17 World Championship for Women in Amsterdam this August and head coach Carly Clarke is hoping for a better result than two years ago.
The North Americans finished 11th out of 12 teams back in the inaugural event which was staged in the French cities Toulouse and Rodez in 2010.
Clarke is now hoping that Canada can at least reach the Quarter-Finals, at which point anything can happen.
One of the key players for Clark’s team will be 16-year-old Kia Nurse, who led Canada in scoring and was tied for tops in assists at the 2011 U16 FIBA Americas Championship where the Canadians came in third to qualify for this summer's event.
But Clarke believes her team will have its best chances when they play as a team and their national characteristics of defense and rebounding will carry them to success.
FIBA.com caught up with the coach early in the preparation phase to look ahead to the World Championship.
FIBA: How much confidence does the team have after finishing third at the U16 FIBA Americas Championship last summer?
Clarke: We just finished a training camp (in late March) and our girls no doubt feel good about where we are, and more importantly are clearly putting in the work required to be ready for Holland in August. Our players that got to experience the qualifiers last year have really gained an understanding of what we need to improve on and where we need to be, using those teams that finished ahead of us last summer as a guide and motivation.
FIBA: What are your thoughts on being drawn in Group A alongside Belgium, Italy, Korea, Mali and USA? Can you talk about the other teams?
Clarke: I think when you get to a World Championship there are no easy games. Obviously we have the gold medalists (USA) and fourth-placed team (Belgium) from the previous world championship, so they have proven they have been strong in the past. We had a chance to see the U.S. play last year at the (U16 FIBA Americas tournament), so we know what to expect from them.
Otherwise, the teams in our group will bring various styles of plays, many of which will be new to our athletes. We will do our best to prepare our athletes for these styles and our competition, but at the same time, we will keep the focus on ourselves and playing our game. And if we do that we should be confident in the way things will turn out.
FIBA: One of your top players from last summer was Kia Nurse. What things does she do best and how important is she to your team’s chances in Holland?
Clarke: Kia is a world class athlete and has a tremendous ability to score the basketball. Defensively her pressure can create turnovers and provide easy scores for herself and her teammates, while offensively she finds ways to get to the rim and create scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates. She proved herself to be one of the top players in the qualifying tournament. Her play alongside some guards who were absent last year due to injury will make our front court quite strong. She has a toughness about her, where she will not back down to any situation, so we will expect her to be a leader on and off the court as well.
FIBA: And it would seem like Emma Wolfram, Hannah Jardine, Cheyanne Roger, as well as Audrey-Ann and Khaleann Caron-Goudreau are the other main players. What do you expect from them at this tournament?
Clarke: We believe we have a lot of size and versatility that will help us match up to most, if not all, teams in the tournament. The players mentioned above and others have worked hard to improve their skills to become more multi-faceted. We will not be reliant on one or two players to score. I believe we have many individuals who will be able to put the ball in the basket for us. Our length defensively will also allow us to pressure the basketball and get in passing lanes. Finally, we are capable of being one of the best rebounding teams in the tournament and will need to be in order to achieve our goals.
FIBA: Who do you see maybe as someone from last summer’s U16 team that has stepped up her game or someone who was not even in Mexico who will be in Holland?
Clarke: As mentioned before, nearly all of our athletes have worked hard to add aspects to their game. Saicha Grant Allen is one who is really taken her lessons learned from last summer and applied them over the last 8-9 months. If she continues to work leading up to August I expect her to have an impact with our team, as her skills are now reaching a level to match her athleticism. Shay Colley continues to rehab from injury and if she regains her form her play alongside Kia Nurse will be something to look out for.
FIBA: What are the team’s expectations going into the tournament? And what does the team need to do to accomplish those goals?
Clarke: Our goal is to make the quarter-final round of the tournament, which requires us to finish in the top four of our pool. If we achieve this, we can set further goals for that round. We know at a World Championship there are no easy games so it will be vital that we stay focused in the present and play the game we are faced with that day. Beyond that, we will need to play together on both ends of the floor. As a characteristic of most Canadian teams do, we will need to set the tone with our defense and rebounding - if we do that we believe we will be in a position to be successful.
FIBA: Looking at the other teams, who do you expect to be the top players from the other teams?
Clarke: At this point we have not placed any real emphasis on our competition, and are not yet familiar with teams from outside our region. Certainly, Izabella Sangalli from Brazil and Rebecca Greenwell from the U.S. are top players we are familiar with and both have proven themselves at the qualifier last summer. The U.S. has several top players who could step up and lead their team on different days.
(Article Courtesy of FIBA.com)