When Canadian women’s basketball veteran Kim Gaucher first considered a return to the national team, she wouldn’t let herself think beyond one small training block at a time.
The 34-year-old from Mission, B.C., had all but retired from the Canadian team after its heartbreaking quarter-final exit at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but then she felt that familiar tug.
“It’s 100 per cent the passion that I have, and the love that I have for playing,” she said. “In my head I was like ‘Well, I’m still playing basketball (for professional club USO Mondeville in France).’ Last year was my first year in a three-year contract.
“If there was any way that I still could help out, that I still could be good enough, then for me, playing for Canada is the greatest, it’s so much cooler than playing for your club. Love my club, but there’s nothing like representing your country, even if it is to pass along knowledge and to try to help out the younger generation in any way I can. I want to see Canada Basketball get to the next level. And it’s a lot of fun, you know?
“Not many people get the chance to play for their country ... I take advantage of it any time I can.”
The Canadian women held their final practice Tuesday at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, before travelling to Bridgeport, Conn., for a pair of exhibition games against Japan and world No. 1-ranked United States.
The friendlies are part of final tuneups for the FIBA women’s World Cup later this month in Tenerife, Spain where Gaucher will help guide the team with her veteran presence.
“So happy that she decided to come back,” coach Lisa Thomaidis said. “She’s playing as well now as she probably ever has in her career when you look at how she’s shooting the ball and what she does with her IQ and ability to anticipate and just the toughness part.
“She brings a lot that our younger players can learn from having to compete against her every day.”
Canada saw several veterans retire after the Rio Games. Gaucher, a two-time Olympian who’s played for Canada since she was 17, likes to regale her young teammates with old war stories.
“Even if they’re not (interested in hearing them), I tell them,” she laughed. “I’m like ‘You guys have no idea.’ If they’re like ‘Oh, I’m tired,’ I’m like ‘This training camp is like five days long, I don’t want to hear that you’re tired. We’ve done 40-day ones.’ I think sometimes they laugh at us. I was telling them how I used to bring an alarm clock to training camp because you didn’t have cellphones, things like that.”
She laughingly talked about living through Canada Basketball’s lean years. Players were housed in college dorm rooms, and were outfitted by a lesser-known apparel company. Now they stay in upscale hotels, and their gym bags are stuffed full of new Nike gear.
“There’s so many changes, and I was like ‘Yeah, you know what? I’ve put in a lot of years, the crappy years of Canada Basketball, I need to reap some of the benefits here,“’ she laughed. “So, it’s really fun to be on the upside. I was on the bottom and I’ve been on the climb.”
Once known for its defence, Gaucher returned to a Canadian team that is faster and more athletic than ever. Blessed with young, athletic women including Kia Nurse, Nirra Fields and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, the Canadians have pushed their offensive tempo to a whole new level, and have the talent to play at that pace.
“That’s just been the growth that started at the development level. We’re getting these outstanding athletes, and they’re not just athletes when they reach us now, they’re more complete basketball players,” she said. “So yeah, now when we get here, we don’t just have to rely on our defence. I think we’re still going to be one of the top defensive teams in the world, but it’s a relief to know that you can score with other teams now.”
The Canadians will play Japan on Friday, and the U.S. on Saturday. Before travelling to Tenerife, Canada will face France, the U.S. and Senegal in a four-team tournament in France, Sept. 15-17.
Canada is in Group A for the FIBA World Cup with Greece, Korea and France.