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Canada's Miranda Ayim (left) and Tamara Tatham (2nd left) embrace as fellow teammates Nirra Fields (2nd right) and Lizanne Murphy (right) celebrate a basket against Cuba during first half action of the 2015 FIBA Americas Women's Championship Final in Edmonton, Alta., on Aug. 16, 2015. (JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canada's Miranda Ayim (left) and Tamara Tatham (2nd left) embrace as fellow teammates Nirra Fields (2nd right) and Lizanne Murphy (right) celebrate a basket against Cuba during first half action of the 2015 FIBA Americas Women's Championship Final in Edmonton, Alta., on Aug. 16, 2015. (JASON FRANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Three veteran players retire from national women’s basketball team Add to ...

The “Happy Anniversary” messages have poured in every July 1 since 2012. On Canada Day that year, Shona Thorburn, Lizanne Murphy and Tamara Tatham helped the national women’s basketball team clinch the last available berth for the London Olympics.

The trio of two-time Olympians announced their retirement from the Canadian team Tuesday — and recalled that day, in particular, as one they’ll never forget.

“We call it our anniversary,” Murphy said. “What was so special about that was since we made the senior team from an open tryout (in 2007), we thought about the London Olympics every single day for five years. It just meant so much to get there.”

“You’ll get these messages: ‘Hey guys! Best day of our lives!“’ added Thorburn. “Because we didn’t take the easy route to get anywhere. I’ll never forget those girls and what we accomplished. Without that 2012 summer, and what we were able to accomplish, we wouldn’t have made it to Rio either, in my opinion. Because that was when we realized our potential and at what level we could play at.”

Thorburn, a 34-year-old from Hamilton, represented Canada from 1998 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2016, playing 132 games in total with 107 on the senior team. Murphy, a 33-year-old from Beaconsfield, Que., and the 31-year-old Tatham, from Brampton, Ont., both joined the team in 2005, and have been close friends ever since. Murphy went on to play 145 games while Tatham played 157.

The trio helped Canada qualify for back-to-back Olympics in 2012 and 2016 and win gold medals at the 2015 Pan American Games and 2015 FIBA Americas tournament.

The Canadian women’s team saw a resurgence over the past decade, and the three veterans were a big part of it. They stuck it out through the program’s lean years, when “Canada Basketball had no money and we were sharing dorm rooms, and Teresa Gabriele and Kim (Gaucher’s) parents were baking food for us,” Murphy laughed.

“We look back at those days, those were some of my fondest memories of the national team,” she said. “It is just so cool that we were a part of the growth of something.”

Thorburn talked about the disheartening summers when she couldn’t “see past losing to Brazil by 40 points,” and the hard work and sacrifice to stick it out. She’s proud of the legacy they leave behind.

“If there are ever young basketball players who want to ask me what it was like before, I have stories,” she said. “I hope that’s something that they’ve learned from us, that it wasn’t always easy. And it’s not going to be easy. There’s still a big step that we have to take to be competitive at the next level and I hope our experiences have taught them that they have to work harder and things like that.”

The three plan to play professionally at least one more season in France. They’re stepping away from the national team as it begins its quadrennial for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

With their pro seasons recently wrapped up, Thorburn was headed home to Hamilton, while Murphy and Tatham are on a three-week driving vacation around Europe. They were in Lyon, France on Tuesday, before heading to Chamonix and then Italy.

“It’s been a bit overwhelming to plan, because over the last 12 years we’ve never had more than 10 days off, and in those 10 days you’re always training, getting ready for the next training camp. We’re all experts at gyms, airports and hotels worldwide,” Murphy laughing. “This is a really cool adventure.”

As for their careers after basketball, Murphy plans to further her studies and is considering medical school. Thorburn is doing commentary for FIBA this summer at both Eurobasket and the under-19 women’s world championships. Tatham hopes to remain in the sport, perhaps as a coach.

Tatham said they leave the program in good hands.

“There’s a lot of young talent in Canada right now,” she said. “It’s going to be a great program in the future, and I really can’t wait to see it happen.”

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