Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Laeticia Amihere is committed to using her influence for good

Laeticia Amihere is a force. Whether she is ripping down a rebound with authority, soaking up every bit of knowledge from her Team Canada teammates, or spearheading community initiatives for the University of South Carolina’s diversity and inclusion committee, Amihere is looking to leave her mark.

The 19-year-old Mississauga native is in her sophomore season with the South Carolina Gamecocks after a redshirt rookie season as she rehabbed from a knee injury. Beginning a university career during a global pandemic while recovering from injury and then returning to the court after an extended absence -- still during a pandemic -- wasn’t the way Amihere had pictured her college career going.

“It’s definitely been weird,” she said. “I think we’re adjusting. We had no idea of what to expect [at first], if we were going to be able to travel or do anything really, but [the school] is doing such a good job. They make it really easy for us athletes to really just focus on basketball and school.”

Despite some truly unprecedented obstacles, she has found ways to maximize her opportunities to do good and give back beyond the court, while also being named to the SEC winter academic honour roll and SEC community service team. Amihere also serves as the head of South Carolina’s diversity and inclusion committee.

“I want to be more than an athlete and have a bigger impact other than just basketball,” she said. “I really took that role seriously, especially this year, there’s so much to talk about, there's so much to do.”

Amihere said she looks up to the women in the WNBA, including veteran Team Canada teammate and current Minnesota Lynx player Natalie Achonwa, for the ways they have led important conversations about social justice and racial equality.

“When I'm in my community meetings and I think of ideas of how to better our campus, I look up at the WNBA [and what they’re doing],” Amihere said. “I'll take notes and then bring it to the committee. I definitely look up to them a lot.”

In a year that has been difficult for so many, Amihere has also zeroed in on providing assistance to those who need it most. In addition to her work with local homeless shelters, the diversity and inclusion committee recently partnered with a local shelter on a food drive to benefit low-income communities.

When asked how she spends her time when she isn’t playing or practicing basketball, Amihere did not mention her own hobbies, but her work within the community.

“Just working on bettering our campus with different volunteering,” she said. “Making sure our athletes are engaged during this time because it's so easy to just be a student-athlete and forget about our duties as a citizen. I've been helping with that and I think that's really helped me during the pandemic [as well]. When things are going south, I can focus on helping others and now bringing joy as well.”

Another thing that brings Amihere immediate joy is talking about her Canada Basketball teammates.

Unlike many of her basketball-playing peers, Amihere didn't grow up obsessed with the sport. She says she found her love for the game later, in her early teen years. Though her mother always told her that her height was something to be proud of, the 6-foot-4 Amihere said she didn’t understand what was so special about it until she started playing basketball in the seventh grade. She also didn't expect a sport to transform how she saw herself.

“My love for the game really came from an outlet to express myself,” she said. “Once I started playing basketball it was like, ‘Okay, this [height] will help me block shots. Okay this will help me get to the rim easier.’ I just grew in love with who I was becoming and it made me more confident and that's what I really started to blossom.”

Because she didn't really watch basketball growing up, Amihere’s biggest basketball influences and inspiration came from her own Canada Basketball teammates. She remembers joining Team Ontario for the first time and being thrilled that she got to learn from veterans like Achonwa and Tamara Tatham.  

“Those were the players I wanted to be on the same path as,” she said. “They went to Team Ontario, they went to Team Canada also. I wanted to get to that level. You look up to players like them.”

Getting to represent Canada is an honour for Amihere. Her appreciation for her teammates and the family atmosphere of the organization comes through when she is speaking about her own journey through multiple knee injuries that involved long and sometimes lonely recovery periods.

For many basketball fans, their introduction to Amihere came via a viral video of a then-15-year-old Amihere dunking. Instead of getting to ride the wave of that video, Amihere suffered an unfortunate injury, tearing her ACL. Through the early days of recovery to her triumphant return to the court, Canada Basketball was there.

"That injury was the first I’ve ever had,” she said. “Being a young person, the first thing you think is, ‘I’m injured. How do I move on from here?’ The first thing you’re going to be down. But Team Canada made it so easy for me during this process. As soon as I got injured they called me and walked me through that.”

Amihere recalled how Canada Basketball helped her to cope with the injury itself, as well as the mental side of going through an injury that requires a lengthy recovery. From talking with her about the physical side of the injury to introducing her to meditation apps to quiet a mind eager to get past the injury, to sending her game film of her own to critique and stay engaged, she credits the organization with helping to make that time easier.

During this past year of the pandemic, Amihere says the organization was there for its athletes. “They sent us a [meditation app] membership to use during the pandemic,” she said. “They also told us to choose books and they’d get it for us to make sure that we’re able to read or do something else and not just sit at home not doing anything. They also sent us weights. I’m so thankful. You can hear how excited I am speaking about it because they really take care of you.”

In addition to the organization itself, the members of the Senior Women’s National Team are always there to support and lift one another up. Whether it is celebrating successes, or providing advice about on court matters as well as off, the “CB family” as Amihere calls it, has provided a wealth of knowledge and Amihere has been a sponge, soaking up as much of it as possible.

“We're really a family,” she said. “From [younger] age group [teams] to [the Senior Women's National Team] to any age group in between, you’re able to look up to so many people and all the players [are willing to share what they know]. When I was in training camp my first time, I just learned so much. Like, these players are so wise. It's amazing to be able to pick their brains and listen to their stories and they've all been through. [Veteran] Miranda [Ayim] is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. She is so smart. She is incredible.”

No doubt, Amihere’s fellow student-athletes at South Carolina, as well as her Canada Basketball teammates would describe her as the same.  

As she continues to put in the work away from the gym to try to better every day for those around her, she’s putting in work on the court as well. After fighting back from injury, Amihere is determined to make the most of every opportunity.

“I’m just proud I’m able to go out there every game,” she said. “I’m super aggressive, I crash the boards, I drive hard. Obviously, kudos to the staff and everybody that’s helped me progress through this injury. But I think I feel stronger than ever.”