Canadian women's basketball head coach Allison McNeill says her team is ready to take advantage of its last chance to reach the Summer Games.
Canada was drawn in a pool with France and Mali on Wednesday for the 2012 FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament in Turkey.
McNeill, who has been with the national program for over a decade, said the squad that will head to Ankara for the June 25-July 1 event will be the strongest team she has ever put on the floor.
She credits the development within the program, the team's maturation and the strong commitment of the players.
“I think that's what this group has done,” McNeill said from Burnaby, B.C. “It's by far the best group I've coached.”
Experienced veterans like Kim Smith and Teresa Gabriele, both of Mission, B.C., and Chelsea Aubry of Kitchener, Ont., will be counted on to lead a team that is currently ranked 11th in the world.
France holds the No. 8 position and Mali is at No. 19. Five of the 12 countries at the tournament will advance to the Games in London.
“Do we have to play well? Yes. Do we have to get some breaks? Yes, of course,” McNeill said. “But I know the players believe that we can get one of those five berths.”
Canada's last Olympic appearance came at the 2000 Games in Sydney. The Canadians finished fifth in their group with a 2-3 record and settled for 10th overall.
Canada has been strong at the defensive end in recent years and McNeill is confident the offence will continue to improve. Canada is coming off a third-place finish at the FIBA Americas Championship last fall in Colombia.
“I think we've been really striving and working,” McNeill said. “A lot of people have 2012 circled on their calendar.”
In Turkey, the four quarter-final winners advance to London, and the four losers play a knockout bracket to decide the fifth qualifier.
The other groups are Japan, Puerto Rico and Turkey; Argentina, Czech Republic and New Zealand; and Croatia, South Korea and Mozambique.
The groups will play round-robin matches, with two advancing from each pool to the quarter-finals.
The 12-country London lineup already includes host Britain, Angola, Australia, Brazil, China, Russia and the United States.