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Canada's Kia Nurse, left, keeps the ball from United States' Diana Taurasi, center, as Canada's Miranda Ayim, right, defends, during the first half of an exhibition basketball game, Friday, July 29, 2016, in Bridgeport, Conn. The Canadian women's basketball team has plenty of momentum heading into the Rio Olympics.

Jessica Hill/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Lizanne Murphy is a heart-on-her-sleeve kind of player, an emotional leader for Canada's Olympic-bound women's basketball team.

Ask her about the journey from the leaner years of a decade ago to now standing possibly on the cusp of success the team has never seen, and she struggles to hold back the tears.

It's a losing battle.

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"It would be like a dream come true, it's all I've thought about for a really long time. But it would just mean that. . . the process is worth it," the 32-year-old Murphy said as the tears came. "It's been a hard road. It's taken a lot of sacrifice from some of the older players. We were here when there was no money, not a lot of resources at all, but everyone committed to making this program better.

"So it is proof that hard work pays off. And that might be like a very cliched thing, but it would be really worth it to see the dream from 10, 15 years ago come to fruition now. And then just the future is going to be so exciting for Canada Basketball."

On a recent afternoon, Canada's finest women's basketball players were wrapping up practice in a gym just south of downtown Edmonton, their home away from home for the better part of four years. They've spent so many nights, two-to-a-room, at the same downtown hotel, they know the staff by name. They are instantly recognizable when they hop on the LRT to practice, their Canada Basketball bags slung over one shoulder. Fellow commuters regularly wish them good luck.

They've been quietly working in Edmonton towards one goal: a medal in Rio.

For the younger players such as Kia Nurse and Nirra Fields, a podium performance would be just the tip-off to even more success for a growing women's program that saw a record four drafted into the WNBA this year.

But for the veterans such as Murphy and Kim Gaucher, it would be the realization of a dream they could barely have imagined back when they first donned the Maple Leaf.

Head coach Lisa Thomaidis, who was a longtime assistant on Allison McNeill's staff before McNeill retired in 2012, would love nothing better than to see the veterans on the medal podium.

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"That would be so satisfying, because they've been with us for so many years," Thomaidis said. "They've been through the tough times, they've started to experience some of the tremendous attention to our team now, and getting some notoriety and exposure, and some of these players are becoming household names which is hugely rewarding for them, because they have toiled away at this for so many years.

"So to get to this point and be on this stage and to have that opportunity is super rewarding. They're going to play very, very well. They're ready for this."

The Canadians' notoriety came at last summer's Pan American Games in Toronto, where they won a first-ever gold. Nurse became a star with her spectacular performance, and carried Canada's flag in the closing ceremonies.

A couple of weeks later, Canada booked its berth in Rio with a victory at the FIBA Americas tournament in Edmonton.

The women are ranked No. 9 in the world but recently swept No. 8 China — their first opponent in Rio on Saturday — in three dominant performances.

Four years ago, the woman earned the very last spot in the Olympic tournament by winning a last-chance qualifier just a month before the London Games opened. They would reach the quarter-finals in London, only to be knocked out by a mighty American team, which went on to win gold.

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The Canadians didn't leave anything to chance this time around, and having a full year to train with their Olympic spot already secure has made all the difference.

"It was actually really cool to know what to expect, and to go in the year before and know that we have this to work on specifically, and this we need to work on on the court and off the court to help us get better, more fit, stronger to be ready for the Olympics," said Tamara Tatham.

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11:13ET 02-08-16

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