TORONTO (May 21, 2023) - The past few years have been a whirlwind for Toronto native Toby Fournier. The 17 year-old, 6-foot-3 basketball phenom announced on Wednesday that she has committed to Duke University. In between recruiting visits, winning an OSBA championship with Crestwood Prep, and announcing that she will be joining coach Kara Lawson at Duke, Fournier has been busy with the typical demands of high school. When she was interviewed for this piece, she was more than willing to take an extended break from her math homework.
Today Fournier is the 13th ranked overall recruit in her class, but she remembers just a few short years ago, when she hadn’t yet realized her own basketball potential.
“My [rec league] coach actually told me, he said, ‘When you pick your university, pick somewhere warm,’ Fournier said. “He saw that D1 potential in me from the beginning.”
Fournier may not have followed his advice about the weather, but she did take that comment to heart as she began to understand what the future could have in store for her.
“It was a realization for me, seeing how far basketball could take me, and that it wasn’t just for fun,” she said. “Going to incredible schools in the United States, my recruiting process, I wasn’t really thinking like that, but now that I look back at what he said, I could see the opportunities that are in front of me because of basketball. The coaches, the schools, traveling around the world. That quote hit my parents more in the moment than it did me, I was just clueless in the moment and just wanted to get back to the court.”
Fournier wasn’t even planning to begin playing basketball, her introduction to the sport happening almost entirely by accident.
“I went to Elite Camps [in North York], because my older sister went there before me,” Fournier said. “I was sort of just visiting and they saw me and were like, ‘Oh my god, she’s 6-foot-2 and she’s 10 [years-old]. Let’s give her a ball and see what she can do.”
Fournier hanging around the gym waiting on her sister caught the eye of the coaches and her rapid ascent in the sport began.
“Most of the people I play basketball with had a basketball in their hands from day one, they were so young playing basketball in rec leagues,” Fournier said. “I kind of started late, but I had an advantage because I was so long and so tall. My basketball IQ just needed to catch up a little bit.”
Fournier began attending the same Elite Camps that her sister had attended and it was there that she started to learn the fundamentals. Dribbling, layups, how to play as well as how to train.
“I was learning the things I need to learn to become the player I want to become,” she said.
While Fournier’s love of the sport came almost immediately, it took some time for her to stop getting nervous when competing. Her earliest games playing rec league didn’t exactly pack the gym, but the nerves remained all the same.
“I was so nervous every game even though there were only five people in the stands,” she said with a laugh. “There was basically someone’s grandma and then my dad. I was super nervous, I didn’t really have confidence [in competing yet], but I built it throughout the season.”
With her confidence in check, everything started to fall into place for Fournier. After staring at Greenwood Prep, Fournier’s play began to garner attention from Toronto’s biggest talent recruiters in basketball and she made the move to basketball powerhouse Crestwood Prep. Fournier credits Ro Russell and coach Marlo Davis with believing in her potential from the jump as she started at Crestwood.
“Canada is covering huge ground in terms of basketball, especially women’s basketball and in the OSBA, there’s tons of competition,” Fournier said.
The leaps and bounds that Canada has taken were on full display at this year’s NIKE Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon. Fournier, along with fellow Canadians Delaney Gibb and Syla Swords, represented the World Select team on the biggest stage for high school hoopers. Though the U.S. team pulled away late to break the game open and earn a 100-79 victory, Fournier had 18 points and nine rebounds to lead the World Select squad.
“I loved the Nike Hoop Summit so much,” Fournier said. “It was so fun. Meeting girls from all across the world was so cool.”
Fournier was coached by Senior Women’s National Team assistant Carly Clarke in Oregon. This came after Fournier spent training camp with Clarke and the rest of the SWNT in France this past March. After playing for the Kia Nurse Elite EYBL team for the last two years, Fournier got to share the court with Nurse as an equal.
“That was an incredible experience,” she said. “It was super cool because I've been playing on Kia Nurse [Elite] for so long. I’ve met her dad. I've played on her team, like wearing her name on the front of her shirt, not actually playing with her. Then walking in the gym, it was super cool just walking into the gym and seeing the person I was representing and now I’m on the court with her.
“That was a super cool, surreal experience for me,” Fournier continued. “Just getting to meet her, getting to know her a little bit more. She’s such an incredible independent woman, it was cool getting to know who I was representing even better.”
On Wednesday, Fournier was announced as one of 18 players who will be attending another Senior Women’s National Team training camp next week in Edmonton in advance of the team’s exhibition game against Japan that will take place in Victoria on Friday, June 2.
When she isn’t with the Senior Women’s team, she will be representing Canada in the U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup that will take place in Spain this July. Her goal for the event is simple.
“Just to win,” Fournier said. “To compete against everyone, represent our country, and I know everyone says this, but, to wear Canada across my chest and to have my last name on the back, it’s so cool to represent my family and my country. We have an incredible roster coming up, we have great girls on our team, we’re talented. This year is going to be a great year. The United States is really tough, but I think we have a good chance to match up with them.”
Fournier comes into this summer hoping to continue her on-court success after winning the OSBA championship with Crestwood this season.
“It's the most incredible feeling in the world,” Fournier says of hoisting the trophy. “You work so hard. All of the teams in the OSBA, you work so hard to build up to this moment, all of the morning practices at 6 am in the morning, waiting in the parking lot for the coach to open the doors, working out, running our 17’s, getting our cardio up, it all feels worth it. Having that trophy and getting to celebrate together as a team. The last 10 seconds waiting to run onto the court because we knew we had the game, it was so incredible, I can't even explain it.”
A massive fan of Elena Delle Donne and Candace Parker – “she’s also dunking the ball!’ Fournier says of Parker – Fournier watches basketball whenever she isn’t playing it or trying to finish her math homework. The love of the game has permeated her entire family. Fournier says when she comes home from school, if she doesn’t have her own game, she can usually find her father, Craig, sitting in front of the TV, watching whatever game he can find.
On her own dunks, which have gone viral time and again, beginning when she was just 14 years-old, Fournier says that touching the backboard was easy, so dunking just had to come next.
“It’s cool to get a reaction and bring more people to the game,” she said before admitting that yes, it is as fun as it looks to be able to throw one down.
The lone woman’s player to compete in this year's BioSteel All-Canadian game dunk contest, Fournier walked away with another trophy, earning co-winner awards alongside Jalik Dunkley-Distant.
Growing the women's game is important to Fournier. The WNBA preseason game that was played at Scotiabank Arena last week made her think of the future and what it could mean to young girls growing up watching the best players in the world at home.
“It means the absolute world,” she said. “So many little Canadian girls are going to get to that game and see their role models playing and be like ‘Maybe I can be like that one day.’ It’s such a great thing to look up to and such a great thing to look forward to.”
For now, Fournier will get that math homework finished, but not before daydreaming just a bit more about all that’s next to come in her basketball career.