Canada Basketball looked far and wide, but in the end, the best choice was right under its nose.
Lisa Thomaidis is taking the reins of Canada’s senior women’s team after 11 years as an assistant, making for what she believes will be a seamless changing of hands.
“A lot of that legwork is done, your relationships have been established, my familiarity with the program, with Canada Basketball, with FIBA. . . hopefully it’s very seamless,” Thomaidis said on a conference call Wednesday.
The native of Dundas, Ont., is a two-time CIS and four-time Canada West coach of the year with the Saskatchewan Huskies, a job she’ll continue.
Thomaidis succeeds Allison McNeill on the national team. McNeill brought respectability to the program before retiring in December after 11 years with the team, capped by its inspiring run to the quarter-finals at the London Olympics.
“There’s no doubt about it that we’ve generated some great momentum in the past few years, and especially culminating in London, and now we need to take that to the next level,” Thomaidis said from Saskatoon.
Canada Basketball’s CEO Wayne Parrish said there was significant interest from around the world in the position.
“The work that Allison and her assistant coaches had accomplished over the 11 years to get us to the Olympic quarter-finals was tremendous,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we continued in that vein and reached out and were able to put in place the kind of leadership that would take us to another level in Rio and in 2020 and certainly the world championships in between here and there.
“In the end, we came back home.”
McNeill took Canada to back-to-back world championships in 2006 and 2010 as the country returned to the global tournament after a 12-year absence. The No. 9-ranked Canadians earned the last spot available for the London Games and then went all the way to the quarter-finals before being eliminated by eventual gold medallist United States.
Thomaidis said she wasn’t sure what players might return from that squad that included veterans Teresa Gabriele, Kim Smith and Chelsea Aubry.
“As soon as I get off this call that’s probably the first thing that I’m doing is contacting those players and seeing exactly where they are and where their minds are at in terms of their commitment down the road, and where they see themselves and what they’ve been doing this past year,” Thomaidis said. “Hopefully we can have a lot of those athletes back, that’s super important in terms of our continued development as a team — a combination of them and hopefully some younger blood and then moving forward with that group.”
The next test for the women’s team is this fall’s FIBA Americas Championship, the qualifying event for the 2014 world championships. After that, it’s Olympic qualifying for the 2016 Rio Summer Games.
While Canada’s women’s team has traditionally been a defensive force, Thomaidis said “there’s no secret that we have to be a better offensive team to be in the next echelon of world powers.”
She saw signs in London that Canada is improving on the offensive end, but “another six or eight points would make a huge difference, we’d probably win three more games at the Olympics with six to eight more points.
“That will certainly be a focal point for us, it always has been, we’re certainly limited with the talent that we have, so. . . yeah, I’d love to see us scoring 80 to 100 points a game, but is that going to be realistic?” she added.
Thomaidis transformed the Huskies into a team that’s consistently in the top-10 in the CIS in her 14-year tenure. She’s currently on a one-year professional leave of absence.
As a player, she earned three OUA all-star selections with the McMaster Marauders. She also played overseas in the Greek first division.