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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

UConn freshman Kia Nurse had thrill of a lifetime at World Championships

The constant flood of text messages from the members of the two-time defending national champions weren't all the reminders of what awaits for Canadian national team starting guard Kia Nurse during her memorable time in Turkey. She also had the chance to bump into UConn All-American Breanna Stewart, the Huskies' Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma and the Huskies' highly-respected associate head coach Chris Dailey in the hallways and lobby of the FIBA World Championship for Women team hotel in Istanbul.

While Nurse's Canadian team did not get to square off with Auriemma's defending champion United States squad, that was about the only thing Canada's team failed to accomplish over the last several days.

Despite playing without the injured Natalie Achonwa, who would have been one of the team's best post players, Canada defeated 2010 World Championship silver medalist Czech Republic, 2012 Olympic finalist France and China en route to an impressive fifth place finish.

"Around the locker room there was nothing but excitement and happiness," Nurse said a conference call after Canada's 61-53 win over China in the fifth-place game. "Definitely the older players are little more excited that the younger players, they have been through the trenches and have been with the team for a very long time so they knew exactly what it took to get here where some of our younger players are just coming in now and realizing what we have to do to get back to this place. Definitely it is a huge deal for us. We are excited with our finish and thinking it can go nowhere but up."

Nurse had nine points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in the win over China as Canada recorded its best World Championship finish since winning the bronze medal in 1986.

Nurse, the youngest player on the Canadian team and second youngest in the tournament, finished fourth on the team in scoring averaging 6.9 points per game and her seven steals in the seven games was tied for second on the squad.

"There are hundreds of things I have learned over the last two years. I have been really grateful to have such great teammates and a great coaching staff to help me push through," Nurse said. "I have learned a lot about the mental side of the game, how to think my way through the game and playing against some really great point guards has really exposed some of my weaknesses. It has really helped me realize my strengths and become more confident in that."

Veteran Canadian guard Shona Thorburn, who led her team in assists and steals, has taken the 18-year-old Nurse under her wing as they work out together in their mutual hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.

Thorburn has seen Nurse grow as a player by leaps and bounds even since the time the team gathered for the first of three training camps.

"Her intelligence, she is getting it," said Thorburn, the seventh overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft who appeared in 22 games with the Minnesota Lynx in the 2006 season. "She is improving every game. Mentally, some of passes she made (in the tournament) she wasn't making at beginning of the summer.

"Every game she is learning and getting excited. She is an older child, she is completing against women. I hope she is encouraged and it fuels her fire to be one of those stars in the future."

Nurse has gravitated towards Thorburn and fellow veteran Kim Gaucher looking to absorb whatever knowledge and insight she can from the team leaders of the Canadian program. 

"Playing with the two of them has been incredible," Nurse said. "I sit on the bench sometimes and every game say 'oh my gosh, that really just happened.' They are two really amazing players. They are geniuses on the basketball court, they know exactly what is going on. Kim was here at a young age like I am and if I can be anything like a leader like her ... They are two of the best leaders I have ever had the privilege to play with."

Nurse had nine points in the tournament opener against Mozambique but then had four combined points on 2 of 10 shooting in losses to host Turkey and France. Nurse had her tournament high of 12 points in a win over the Czech Republic which put Canada into the quarterfinals and averaged 8.8 points, 2 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the final four games of the tournament against the No. 2, 4, 5 and 8 teams in the latest FIBA World Rankings.

"Over the past year it has been night and day," Canada coach Lisa Thomaidis said of Nurse's improvement. "I said to somebody else that every game that we get to have her and she gets to play in a senior national team uniform is another day that she takes a step up. I think she continues to grow and to improve after every single competition. She is such a competitor. She gets a lot of work with our coaching staff as far as what to think about, what to improve on and watching film. She gets a measuring stick every single night against some 30-year-old guards who have a skill set that is a little bit more refined than she has right now but she is continuing to improve and it only going to get better. She is going to a pretty good program I hear."

So what did Nurse improve the most on during this summer?

"It is just a stepping stone," Nurse said, "I have been playing against the best players in the world and you can't ask for anything better than that. Going into UConn, I am hoping to bring things that I learned like the stretch finishes and reading the defender's eyes so I can bring the mental side of the game over to Connecticut to help me be successful there.

"I think I am getting my head up a little quicker, seeing posts on the (pick and) roll, seeing defenders in front of me, the second line of defenders. Sometimes I am like 'wow, that really just happened and I really made that play.' Probably three months ago I wouldn't have seen that."

Nurse spent a week or two at UConn in between her time with the national team. She is planning to return to campus on Tuesday where she will get caught up academically and have a week to get comfortable before UConn opens practice on Oct. 15.

"I am extremely excited," Nurse said. "I have seen them (Auriemma, Dailey and Stewart) around the hotel a little bit and had a conversation with here and there. I hung out with Stewie the other night and I could not be more excited to go back. My teammates have been texting me waiting for me to come back and I am really excited to get on the court with them."

It's been an extra special time for the Nurse family as her older brother Darnell who has played in six of the first eight preseason games, is tied for second on the team with a plus 3 defensive rating and his two assists is tied for the lead among the 12 defensemen to play for the Oilers. He showed enough that he made the Oilers' opening day roster.

"My parents got here to support us," Kia Nurse said "They got here for the first game. Some days they wake up really late and I ask them why and they got up at 4 a.m. Turkey time watching my brother play his game. I am excited for him because he is living out his dream, he is working really hard, If anybody deserves that, he does and to have him as my brother and have him in my support system it is a great thing to have in your pocket."

Speaking of Edmonton, that is the site of the FIBA Americas Championship for Women in 2015. Last year Canada finished second in that tournament to qualify for the World Championships and is now looking to do the same to earn a spot in the 2016 Olympics. The tournament runs from Aug. 9-15 at the University of Alberta.

According to the tournament's official site, there were 193 players on the rosters of the 16 teams and 12 of them were teenagers. Nurse played the most minutes and had the most points and second best scoring average.

Player Country           Age   G M  FGS 3PT FTS P-R-A-S-B (TO)
Rosa Gala Angola         19 3   33 1-8   1-4  1-2    4- 4- 1-1-0 (5)
Sion Kim Korea 19 dnp
Meng Li China             19 5   34 5-12  2-8  5-5   17-11- 0-1-0 (4)
Sanja Mandic Serbia 19 2     8 2-2    2-2  0-2     6-  0- 2-0-0 (0)
Kia Nurse Canada         18 7 152 18-47 3-13 9-15  48-11- 8-7-0 (7)
Jihyun Shin Korea         19 3   39   5-9   2-4  0-0   12- 7- 5-2-0 (3)
Jisu Park Korea 15 3   84 14-42 0-0  5-6   33-15- 1-3-4 (8)
Leticia Romero Spain 19   3   10   0-2   0-1  0-0     0- 0- 0-0-0 (2)
Tilbe Senyurek Turkey 19 2   15   3-9   0-1  1-1     7- 1- 1-0-0 (1)
Helena Viegas Angola 19 2   10   0-1   0-1  2-2     2- 0- 1-0-0 (1)
Ksenija Voishal Belarus 19 1     5   0-1   0-0  0-0     0- 0- 0-0-0 (0)
Liwei Yang China         19 7 116 11-29 3-15 6-8   31-14-17-5-2 (14)

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