THREE CANADIAN BASKETBALL STARS SAY GOODBYE TO THE NATIONAL TEAM

By Brian Swane

(May 9, 2017) - Combined they have three dozen years of service with Canada Basketball, totalling nearly 450 games.

Since 2011, they’ve taken the court together more than 75 times, from the London Summer Games to the World Championships and back to the Olympics again.

And now, as one, they say goodbye.

Lizanne Murphy, Tamara Tatham and Shona Thorburn, three pillars of the Women’s National Team, are retiring after helping the program ascend to unprecedented new heights.

“They’ve all played such a huge part in elevating our team to where it is today on the international stage,” said Lisa Thomaidis, Head Coach of the Women’s National Team. “When you have players who have committed and dedicated so many years to the growth and development of basketball in this country, like they have, you can’t help but feel tremendous admiration and gratitude toward them.”   

When Thorburn made her SWNT debut in the early 2000s, Team Canada had come short in its last two attempts to qualify for the World Championships. Murphy and Tatham came aboard about a decade ago, just as Canada was about to miss the Olympic Games for a second straight time.

Today, Team Canada is coming off back-to-back Olympic appearances, a top-five finish at the most recent World Championships and are the defending Pan Am and FIBA Americas Championships gold medalists.

If they used the same display case, they’d barely be able to squeeze all their medals in. If they shared a closet, there wouldn’t be enough hangers for all the red and white jerseys, battle-worn and seeped in pride. And that’s without beginning to unpack all the boxes of banners, trophies, and other awards of all shapes from events around the world – from Abbotsford, B.C., to Belgrade, Serbia.

Thorburn represented Canada 132 times, playing 107 games with the senior team, winning two gold medals on home soil (Pan Am and Americas in 2015), one silver (Americas 2013), and a pair of bronze (at Americas 2003 and again in 2011). The plucky point guard from Hamilton was just 15 when she first competed internationally at the 1998 World Youth Games, and spent 2002 and 2003 with the senior team. After taking a sabbatical, she returned in 2011 and went on to play in two Olympic Games and the 2014 Worlds.

“Playing for Canada has been the highlight of my basketball career, there are no words to describe the feeling of running out onto the court after Canada has been called,” Thorburn said. “The friendships, memories, experiences are something that I will carry with me the rest of my life."

A Brampton-raised versatile forward and a sharpshooting wing who grew up Beaconsfield, Que., Tatham and Murphy have been nearly inseparable since first suiting up for Canada at the FISU Games in 2005 and joining the senior squad two years later at the Pan-Am Games.

Tatham logged 164 games for her country, all but seven with the senior team, while 138 of Murphy’s 145 total games with Team Canada came at the senior level.

Together, they competed at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games as well as the World Championships in 2010 and 2014. They were part of Canada’s back-to-back Pan Am and Americas triumphs of 2015, and additionally earned silver and bronze, respectively, from Americas in 2013 and 2011. Tatham owns another bronze from 2009 Americas, the lone major tournament she played without Murphy.

Yet, stats and accolades are not what truly define Murphy, Tatham, and Thorburn - character does.

At the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship, Thorburn broke her fibula, just weeks after she had returned from a torn posterior tibiofibular, a rather significant injury in its own right. About three months later, while playing professionally in France, Murphy tore her ACL – for the second time in her career. Tasked not only with making a recovery but doing so in time for Rio, both refused to allow their Olympic dreams to be derailed by injury.

Tatham, on the other hand, is the reigning senior squad “iron women,” as the only player to have been on the team each of the last 10 years and never failed to rise to the occasion. In 2015, she was the only team member named a tournament all-star when Canada booked a spot in Rio with its unforgettable Americas triumph in Edmonton.

“The national team means honour and pride. Not everyone gets to represent their country on the highest stage at the highest level,” says Tatham. “For me that's a blessing and a dream come true.”

A team renowned for unity and camaraderie would not have been complete without each individual’s unique piece of the puzzle. The steely presence of Thorburn, who reached out to mentor young players and make newcomers feel part of the group; Tatham, an even-keeled model of composure that nonetheless was a great source of humour for her teammates; and Murphy, the infectiously effervescent source of energy and unofficial French spokesperson of Team Canada.

“I hope that that young girls watching can learn to believe in themselves. There are a lot of nay-sayers out there, but if you allow yourself to dream - no matter how crazy people think you are - and work as hard as you can, anything is possible,” Murphy says.

“It may sound cliché, but I am living proof of that. I was never the fastest or tallest player in my age group, but I worked harder than everyone I know. In the end, the people that work their butts off are the ones who get the furthest.”

Their singular dedication to country, team, and one another, was not one of year-to-year, or even month-to-month, but day-to-day. Every decision made throughout Murphy, Tatham and Thorburn’s respective hoops careers - which was not without significant pro success - was made with Canada Basketball in mind.

From women who have grown up to join them as teammates to girls that picked up a roundball for the first time after watching last summer’s Olympics, they inspired a generation.

And that, above all, is their greatest accomplishment.