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Hamilton teen is on the national basketball team fast track

Point guard Kia Nurse (left) of the Canadian women’s national basketball team during a practice at the David Braley Centre on the McMaster University campus in Hamilton May 17, 2013.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

When Kia Nurse is looking for guidance in her athletic pursuits, the 17-year-old has no shortage of experts to tap.

There is her father, Richard, who for six seasons played receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. She can also seek advice from her mother, Kathy, a former intercollegiate basketball player at McMaster University.

She can lean on older sister, Tamika, a former U.S. NCAA basketball player at the University of Oregon, or older brother, Darnell, who plays in the OHL for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (and is the fourth-ranked North American prospect by NHL Central Scouting for the upcoming draft in June).

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And when she wants to haul out the heavy artillery, her uncle is former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"Whoever's around the house, it's perfect," Nurse said Friday. "Everybody has some advice somewhere."

She has obviously been a good listener.

The Grade 11 student is a fast-rising talent on the Canadian national basketball scene, one of just three junior-aged players invited to attend a senior women's team training camp, which began Friday at the McMaster campus.

"She's the youngest one here and you'd never know it," said Canadian head coach Lisa Thomaidis, who took over the team from Allison McNeill, who stepped down in December after 11 years. "She fits right in. We have high hopes for her, for sure."

It should come as no surprise given the athletic gene that runs through her family that Nurse is also on the verge of making a big mark in her chosen sport.

The lithe point guard from Hamilton, who is closing in on six feet, starred for Canada's cadette (under-17) squad that last summer captured bronze at the FIBA championship in Holland – the first time a Canadian age-group women's team has won an international medal.

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Now, Nurse is setting her sights on making the senior women's team that hopes to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Richard Nurse, who is now an insurance broker in Hamilton, is at a loss to explain the athletic prowess his children exhibit, apart from good genes.

"We're a sports family, we've always been a sports family," he said. "We know two things: We know academics and sports. That's kind of how our kids grew up. You have good academics you can play sports."

He said his children came by their competitive streak naturally.

Richard Nurse is one of eight children (four boys, four girls) born to Arlie and Marjorie Nurse, who emigrated to Canada and settled in Hamilton about 40 years ago. His father worked in the steel mill now owned by ArcelorMittal Dofasco Inc., while his mother was a nurse.

"When you come from a family of eight, you're always competing for something," he said. "My wife's one of five children growing up, so she's from a big family, too. So she's also competitive by nature.

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"I guess we've passed that on to our kids."

Richard Nurse's sister, Raquel, went to Syracuse University, where she played basketball. It was there she met a young quarterback, and the two married.

McNabb played for 13 seasons in the NFL, 11 of those with the Philadelphia Eagles. McNabb last played in 2011 for the Minnesota Vikings and, earlier this week, officially announced his retirement. The McNabbs currently live in Phoenix.

"He's just a phone call away," Kia Nurse said about her famous uncle. "Any time I need some advice on something I don't hesitate to get in touch with him."

While she is one of 29 women at the national team training camp hoping to turn some heads – including 10 members of the 2012 Olympic team that advanced to the medal round in London before getting wiped out by the United States – Nurse still has the junior program to fall back on.

The juniors will participate at the under-19 world championship in Lithuania from July 17 to 28.

Nurse will play for that team if she is not called upon by senior side, which is gearing up for the FIBA Americas championship in Mexico in September – a qualification tournament for the 2014 women's world championship in Turkey.

With the retirement of veteran point guard Teresa Gabriel (the national team's version of Steve Nash, with 15 years of active service), there is an opening in the backcourt.

"The opportunity is there as to who we're going to bring in," Thomaidis said. "That's one of the reasons why we invited Kia in. We need to fast track her progress."

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