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Kia Nurse continuing to grow the game in Canada

Nurse weighs in on Toronto expansion rumors, her AAU program and more.

The New York Liberty’s Kia Nurse drives to the basket.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Earlier this summer, two investors came forward with a supposed bid to add a WNBA team in Toronto by the 2020 season. While speculation around the validity of the investors and their claim have risen over the past few weeks, the topic of WNBA expansion remains relevant.

For former UConn Husky Kia Nurse, the opportunity for expansion into her home country is an exciting proposal.

“It’s just going to continue to grow the game if we have the opportunity to do that,” said Nurse, who grew up in Hamilton, about an hour away from downtown Toronto.

She did, however, recognize that the timing might not be right, “There’s a big focus right now on the 12 teams in the league and making sure they’re sustained, making sure everything is good here. But, somewhere down the road it would be awesome to continue to grow the game.”

Whether the WNBA will actually be coming to Canada in the near future is still up in the air, but Nurse is already making tremendous strides in growing the game back home. This past winter, she formed Kia Nurse Elite, a Canadian based AAU program backed by Nike.

Kia Nurse Elite has seven girls’ basketball teams ranging from under 12 to under 17 in age. Two of those teams are competing in the Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) circuit in the United States this summer.

“My teams have been really good this summer. It has been really awesome,” said Nurse. “I’m fortunate enough to have run into them in Chicago while we were there and they were playing as well.”

When she can’t be as close to the team due to her professional basketball commitments, Nurse’s father, who serves as the Kia Nurse Elite program director, keeps her updated on what’s happening with the teams. Those updates have included some big successes for a relatively new program.

“We have a couple that are playing with national teams now, repping Canada,” Nurse shared. “That’s essential for us.”

In addition to growing the game through her AAU program, she also gives younger aspiring athletes in Canada someone look up to.

Currently, Nurse is one of three players from Canada’s 2018 FIBA World Cup roster playing in the WNBA. Her New York Liberty teammate Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe played college basketball at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, and is now in her second season in the league. Additionally, Natalie Achonwa has played for the Indiana Fever since graduating from Notre Dame in 2014 and fellow Team Canada player Bridget Carlton, a rookie who had a fantastic senior season at Iowa State, also played for the Connecticut Sun to start the season but was later waived.

“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come,” said Nurse of the Canadian presence in the WNBA. “Obviously there’s a lot of interest in going over to the states to play college basketball from Canada, and that kind of transitions to people being able to have the opportunity to play here. The more we can get in the league the better, so I’m definitely excited about it and glad that there’s a lot of familiar faces I can come see around the league.”

Nurse is, of course, having a breakout season herself in the league this year. She is a invaluable piece in the Liberty’s lineup, leading the team in minutes and averaging over 15 points per game. She will also be making her first appearance in the All-Star game this weekend as a starter. But when it comes down to it, growing the game is at the top of her priorities.

“That’s the most important thing.” said Nurse. “That young women continue to have to an opportunity to see basketball, be a part of it, be immersed in the fan experience of women’s basketball and allow themselves to kind of fall in love with the game.”