Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Public Reading - London 2012 basketball: Canada eliminated in Olympic quarter-final

Public Reading - London 2012 basketball: Canada eliminated in Olympic quarter-final. Okay, they didn’t win. But if this was, indeed, the swansong for many of them, the stubborn old guard that hung in during the dark days to help forge a bright a new vista for Canadian women’s basketball, there are worse ways for the curtain to fall.

Doing their best against the world’s best. At an Olympic Games.

“Obviously,” began coach Allison McNeill, “there’s an outpouring of emotion at the end because we’ve been through this journey together. We’re just really close. The younger players, the older players, the mentors … Teresa [Gabriele] I’ve coached and known since Grade 6. Kim [Smith] I’ve had at basketball camp when she used to come up with Teresa.

“And you’re just going ‘Oh my gosh …’

“Chelsea Aubrey, I just asked if I could adopt her because I’ll miss her if she retires. These two weeks, I have to say, have been unbelievably great. So much fun to be in every game, to be on a track where you’re competing to actually get a medal. I don’t really think we thought we could medal, but every day we tried to medal.”

They were, as anticipated, no match for the long, strong, lightning-quick, ridiculously gifted U.S., in the end thoroughly beaten, 91-48 in the tournament quarter-final.

No country can turn the ball over 26 times against a collection of players of that quality and not be singed. Badly. Five players hit double-digit points for the Americans, who also dragged down 48 boards, 35 on the defensive end. Class like that always tells.

But the final score of Canada’s final game here, while heavily one-sided, doesn’t begin to reflect what this group has achieved.

What mattered most was getting to this point; the last team to qualify for these Games, they held their own against Russia and Australia while beating not only Britain but world No. 6 Brazil. The Canadians entered the tournament ranked No. 11.

“I’m proud of the way we’ve grown the game in our country,” said guard Kim Smith. “The amount of emails and messages we received from girls back home who are watching and supporting us has been amazing. What it does to be able to watch a team in the Olympics … I mean, it’s huge.

“To finally make it to the medal is great. It’s one more game people can watch us play. It’s one more dream the young kids can have.”

One by one, they were subbed out of the game to take a bow. Captain Teresa Gabriele, so influential to the pride of the program, exited with 1:16 left to play.

“We kind of embraced,” said McNeill, “and I said, ‘I’m not letting go first.’ And she said, ‘I’m not, either.’ She’s the gold standard. She really is. She’s very hurt here but she still played great. She’s committed for so long and she has such a passion for playing. So she skips into practice, literally, at 32, like ‘I’m the luckiest kid in the world to be able to play basketball.

“And just her calmness over the years when we were terrible. She would always keep everyone focused, like ‘We can compete. We’re doing fine.’”

Gabriele didn’t come right out and call it a career afterwards, but she didn’t sound overly convinced that Rio 2016 would be an option.

“I don’t know if the body’ll hold up for another four,” she admitted. “I’m not going to say yes or no right now but I’m probably leaning on the ‘no’ side.”

Yes or no, she’s enjoyed herself immensely at these Games. They all have.

“I think this is a huge accomplishment. Not just for me but for the team. To fight through the ups and downs Canada Basketball has gone through. It’s not always easy sticking around because who knows what’s going to happen next year. I don’t want to say putting your life on hold, but it is kind of putting your life on hold and not moving forward. We’ve achieved a ton in this tournament and I think we’re satisfied with what we’ve done.

“When we go to tournaments, when we go to FIBA competitions in the Americas and the tournament in Turkey, those games aren’t shown on TV back home. The Olympics, that’s shown on TV. Hopefully we’ve inspired some young female athletes back home and they want to follow in our footsteps and achieve their dreams.”

And that’s a victory, no matter what the scoreboard says.