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Seventy-four days ago, Canadian basketball star Kia Nurse had surgery to repair a hernia.

She was told that she'd be healed after eight weeks. In a best-case scenario, she could return to sports after ten.

"(The medical staff) told me, 'You'll be in rehab for four hours a day and you'll love it, but we'll get you there'."

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So Nurse, 20, had the operation. Eleven weeks later, she's at the Olympics. Though she's in the recovery window, the injury still hurts.

"But I'm a tough kid," Nurse says, tugging bashfully on the straps of her jersey.

Still looking for her proper game shape, Nurse was a minor presence in Canada's opening game in Brazil, a never-in-doubt 90-68 trashing of China. She played 18 dogged minutes against a very physical opponent. She seemed to spend much of it rolling around on the floor with an opponent on top of her.

If you want to see what the golden generation of Canadian basketball looks like, that's it. Kia Nurse fighting for the ball two months after getting cut open in a game Canada was always going to win.

Nurse's Canadian male equivalent is Minnesota Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins. When Canada came calling ahead of the Olympics, Wiggins declined, citing the need to prepare for the NBA season.

Wiggins was largely let off the hook because the qualifying tournament was held a two-leg flight away and, you know, the NBA.

Nurse has her own individual and professional concerns. She plays college ball at the University of Connecticut, easily the most competitive program in the NCAA.

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She'll be a junior in the fall, assuming a star's responsibility on a team that has won four consecutive championships. She's on the cusp of becoming a force in the women's game.

But she's here, hurt and all. Wiggins is at home, like the rest of the men's team.

Both a counterpoint and a compliment to Nurse's endurance for country would be her teammate, Kim Gaucher. Saturday's encounter was Gaucher's 200th in the Canadian uniform.

The 32-year-old plays professionally, but has never been a star. Many people in her situation might want to devote the bulk of their effort to that side of the game – the one that pays. Not Gaucher. She has been showing up since long before Canada was a burgeoning power.

It's been pointed out that only seven of Gaucher's games have been played at a Summer Games. About 3 per cent of the total.

"It's the other 97 per cent that make her a true Olympian," Canadian coach Lisa Thomaidis said Saturday.

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Canada has always had a problem luring/keeping its top male athletes. Or, at least, the ones with other options.

There is only one endeavour in which it is inconceivable that someone might decline the opportunity to wear red and white on the world stage – hockey.

Other countries apply this rule more broadly, perhaps as a result of a deeper soccer tradition. There is no circumstance in which most Europeans, Africans or South Americans might say no to the flag and then still get to wrap themselves in it when it suited.

That's an argument you could have a long time – is there a circumstance in which you can say 'No' to your country? Is your pro career a good enough reason? Or Zika? Or – the real reason most guys stay away – that you just couldn't be bothered to come all this way, not get to wear your sponsored logos and still probably lose.

It's a free world and we are perhaps the freest country in it. As such, we are temperamentally opposed to getting on top of people because they are insufficiently Canadian. Largely because that can be said of all of us.

But that shouldn't stop us from working this from the other end. Wiggins did nothing wrong, but the Nurses and Gauchers of the world have done something absolutely right.

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They are the athletes who also have something more profitable, more brand-conscious or just more convenient to do, and do this anyway.

Canada's basketball naissance has a lot of cool aspects. Number-one picks, NBA All-Star teams and dunk contests are perfectly acceptable parts of that.

It's obvious that we are always going to overvalue things that Americans value. A big part of the basketball swell is getting up on our tip-toes to show our southerly best friends that we can punch in their weight-class, and in something they care about.

But the highest honour should be saved for those who take genuine pride in representing the people and institutions that helped push them up to the top. There should be no more urgent feeling in a Canadian athlete's work life than that he/she might get to wear the national colours. If that's jingoism, well then fine.

You need a little jingoism to keep a place stitched together.

And we're not just talking about doing it at the Olympics, where there is so much glory to be had even in doing the thing poorly. We're talking about the exhibition games and the long trips away, the ones that aren't important or televised. Those games that make it possible to win once you get to this point.

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It's a lesson Canadian men's basketball has not absorbed. But we continue to hope.

Instead, we have the team who manhandled China. They are getting a small moment of sunshine. Few here deserve it more.

No one has to play for Canada to prove they care about the country or its values. It's not a duty. But it's easier to admire someone who treats it as such.

Every Canadian athlete matters, but only one kind can claim to matter to Canada – the ones who show up whenever they're asked.

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