Canadian basketball history will be made when the WNBA tips off its 20th season on Saturday, May 14.
A record five players from North of the Border are on opening night rosters, as rookies Adut Bulgak, Nirra Fields and Ruth Hamblin join veterans Natalie Achonwa and Kayla Alexander in the worlds best womens basketball league.
The first game on the 2016 WNBA schedule sees Achonwa and the Indiana Fever host Hamblins Dallas Wings. Later Alexander will suit up for the San Antonio Stars at home against the Atlanta Dream. Elsewhere, Bulgak makes her professional debut with the New York Liberty in Washington against the Mystics, and Fields will be in the lineup for the Phoenix Mercury when they visit the Minnesota Lynx in a clash of the last two WNBA champions.
Achonwa is coming off one of the best WNBA rookie seasons by a Canadian. The six-foot-four centre from Guelph, Ont., averaged 8.0 points and 3.5 rebounds and helped the Fever advance to the WNBA Finals, where Indiana was beaten 3-2 by Minnesota in a best-of-five series. Alexander, a Milton, Ont., product is beginning her fourth season patrolling the paint in Texas.
A record four players from Canada Basketball national teams had their names called in the 2016 WNBA Draft last month. Bulgak was selected in the first round out of Florida State. Oregon State teammates Hamblin and Jamie Weisner then went back-to-back in the second round, followed by UCLA guard Fields in the third round. Weisner was released by the Connecticut Sun this week.
Achonwa and Fields were members of the 2015 FIBA Americas and Pan Am Games gold medalists, while centres Bulgak and Hamblin won silver as part of Canada Basketballâ??s Development Womens National Team at the FISU Games last summer. All have been invited to Phase 1 of the Senior Womens National Team Camp, which gets underway later this month at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton. The SWNT is preparing for the Rio Olympic Games in August.
There has never been more than three Canadians in the WNBA simultaneously, most recently in 2003, when Jordan Adams, Stacey Dales and Tammy Sutton-Brown were included on rosters.
Canadian fans can tune into NBA TV Canada for opening night coverage as Minnesota meets Phoenix live at 7.30 p.m. ET.