By Avry Lewis-McDougall

Some 20 floors above downtown Edmonton at the Chateau Lacombe, the media (yours truly included) were able to get a chance to get back into international basketball coverage mode with a team that’s done a bit of winning over the past few months last week.

NCAA players and European pros among them (members of the national team who played in the WNBA stayed with their clubs)  were in Edmonton for training and media sessions and it was the first time that Canada’s national women’s basketball team has returned to the 780 since their gold medal triumph at the FIBA Americas tournament last year to punch their ticket for the Summer Olympics this August.

For long time national team member Lizanne Murphy it was good to get back to the squad for the first time since the FIBA Americas tourney but unfortunately with her pro team in France last season after national team duties, she would tear her ACL in November  after going up for a layup and being hit in the legs by an opposing player.

What would follow would be months upon months of rehab to get back on the court to reach this point and even though she’s not at 100 percent yet she’s still happy to be back on the court with the goal of playing in Brazil.

“I still have a ways to go in my rehab, it’s a work in progress still but the fact that I’m playing, I had a great surgeon,  I was followed up very well but of course a lot of doubt creeps in.

This is the Olympics and it’s a very short timeline that I have from my injury to the Olympics is going to be eight months but from the start of training camp it’s been five and half months. It was fast but I really believe in my rehab and what I’ve done so it’s ok. I was thinking eyes on the prize all the time and not trying to go too far ahead”.

Being apart of the national team for a decade you’ll see a lot of things, and for Lizanne she’s been able to see the game in this country grow at it’s highest levels and with more support for the women’s game along with the Raptors bringing the nation together, it’s clear to her that there’s room for plenty more b-ball love in Canada.

“That makes me proud of our country and proud to be a basketball player in our country. They say we are a hockey country but look at how many people are getting behind the Raptors right now.

I’m arguing that maybe we’re a hockey and basketball country. I think that it’s such a great game and when the Raptors do their exhibition games in different cities in Canada they sell out every time, our country loves basketball and it’s becoming more accessible”.

It wasn’t that long ago though that the women’s national team struggled to gain a foothold with the Canadian public as rarely having games on Canadian TV nor having many home games helped the situation.

With the program now based in Edmonton things have been changing and for Miranda Ayim seeing the support that the team had in Canda for both of their gold medal triumphs at the Pan Am Games in Toronto and at the FIBA Americas was incredible.

“The spirit last year was incredible last summer. We never really get a chance to play in Canada, we’ve had a few friendly games over the years but no major tournaments. To be able to play in front of friends and family that we never get a chance to was a fantastic feeling”.

Being apart of a program that has in the past year won won two major tournaments and is now the 9th ranked team in the world is a major accomplishment and to Miranda it’s the result of a ton of hard work and the program trying to find different ways to improve paying off.

“I think this moment has been in the works for a while, the program has been building and there’s a lot of hard work that’s gone into it, from Allison McNeill our previous coach to Lisa Thomaidis bringing in a new sort of offence. We’ve always had the defence, we’ve always been tenacious on defence.

Bringing in some young talent has also been really beneficial for the program. I think people are finally starting to see those years and years and years of work coming to fruition along side these major tournaments, the support is ramping up, the focus is coming in on our team and it’s great, peaking at the Olympics.”

With the first phase of training now done, the team will come back together later this summer and will head to Europe for a five game exhibition series in France and Spain and will be back in Edmonton in July to play China in the Edmonton Grads Invitational series.