TORONTO, Ont. (Dec. 5, 2022) - After three seasons in the WNBA, playing professional basketball still feels like a dream for Bridget Carleton.
“It’ll randomly hit me, on a random Wednesday night where I’m watching an NHL game and I’m like, ‘Oh, I do this, too,’” Carleton said. “I play professionally, too.”
The 25-year-old Chatham, Ontario native will be adding a new professional jersey to her rotation this week. Carleton left for Spain this past Friday after signing with Perfumerias Avenida in Salamanca, Spain. She will be playing the Liga Femenina de Baloncesto, the highest level of league competition for women in Spain.
The move comes after Carleton was named to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup’s All-Star Five this past September in Australia where the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team finished fourth overall, their highest finish in the tournament since 1986.
“It’s been kind of crazy, just preparing to go, packing, getting my life together a little bit,” she said. “My family is super excited for me. [Spain is] a country I’ve been to before with the national team, but I haven't played there professionally yet. I'm excited to get back there and experience Spain. I’ve heard a lot of great things so I'm excited and looking forward to not being here for the Canadian winter. I won't miss the snow. I’ll miss being around, but I won’t miss the snow.”
Carleton averaged 12.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 blocks per game in eight games for Canada in the World Cup. She credits her time with the Lynx in Minnesota, alongside fellow Team Canada veteran Natalie Achonwa, with helping her to take on a bigger role for Canada during the World Cup.
“I'm surrounded by so many great players and great leaders already,” Carleton said. “I got to spend the last two summers in Minnesota with Natalie, so I am really close with her. I know her leadership style. I know what she needs from me. She's the captain of our team. Just being able to bounce off of her and learn from her and being comfortable with her, that helped me a lot here as well. I have been pretty close with Kia for a long time so [us] three, our relationship, our dynamic, I think really helped my confidence in coming into that role.”
Carleton also mentioned the support she’s received from Team Canada head coach Víctor Lapeña.
“He had a lot of trust in me,” she said. “On his first phone call with me he laid out what he wanted for me. He expected a lot from me and asked a lot of me and knowing he had that confidence in me helped a lot. And knowing, you know, I was confident in what I was able to do. That helped a lot. All of those people in my corner.”
One of the challenges for national team programs is the lack of time that the team gets to have together when they’re not competing. Though in-person time between Lapeña and his players has been limited in his first year with the program, his personality and impact have bridged the gap.
“He's, like, so, so energetic,” Carleton said. “I think that's the best way to describe him. He expects a lot of us, but he also instilled that confidence in us. And we enjoy every single day we're in the gym together because we know it's limited when we’re with our national team and that energy [is] contagious. It's so genuine. I think that's the biggest thing, too. He just wants to win so bad. He wants us all to have fun. And he wants us all to be the best versions of ourselves. And you can feel that when he's around you and he's talking to you at his interviews, when he’s in our pregame huddles.”
Carleton returned home after the World Cup to spend some time with her family. She had planned to wait until the new year to see which opportunities were available overseas during the WNBA offseason, but her strong play in Australia meant teams were calling quicker than she had anticipated.
“Teams started calling and my agent went to work and it ended up being a really good opportunity,” she said. “It all happened pretty fast. The World Cup definitely helped a little bit, getting my name out there and more teams knowing my name and who I am. That definitely didn’t hurt.”
With three WNBA seasons, as well as three stops playing overseas under her belt, Carleton continues to expand her game on and off the court.
“I think the first thing that comes to mind is my ability to adapt,” Carleton said. “I can stay pretty level-headed through a lot of things, but especially as the levels increased for me, as I've gotten to play in the WNBA and play in the World Cup, play significant minutes in the World Cup, I’ve never gotten too ahead of myself, which I've been pretty proud of. I credit that to my family and how they raised me, and to my environment and people around me, because it's hard at that level not wanting to be too hard on yourself, having to stay confident, but not get too confident. And having to stay even-keeled through it all. I think that's what I’m most proud of and what I’ve learned about myself over the last couple of years.”
Carleton has always focused on what’s ahead rather than reflecting on where she’s been, but the past few months at home have provided some rare but cherished moments of reflection. When she’s not watching sports at home with her family and catching a glimpse of herself in a Canada Basketball uniform on a commercial that airs frequently, she’s out in the community where she is reminded that by living out her dream, she’s encouraging others to chase their own.
“When I’m in the grocery store and somebody recognizes me in Chatham and talks to me, it’s like 'Oh, I am making a difference in my hometown, because I’m inspiring little girls that are playing basketball,” Carleton said. “It’s moments like that where it’s pretty cool.”
From Chatham to Minnesota, to Australia to Spain, and everywhere in between and after, Carleton’s impact remains.