The curly-haired 12-year-old at the edge of the tunnel has traveled 2 1/2 hours on a college night time for an opportunity to fulfill her hero. As the Toronto Raptors heat up on the courtroom at Scotiabank Arena and hundreds of followers discover their seats, Annalise Verbruggen waits at part 105-A along with her father, Kevin.
They left early from St. Thomas, in southwestern Ontario, to achieve Toronto effectively earlier than tip-off figuring out that the window, if any, could be transient. An usher walks over to the TSN broadcast crew arrange on a perch overlooking the courtroom, ensuring they’re conscious of the fan who has come all this fashion.
Kia Nurse sits on a stool between broadcasters Kayla Grey and Leo Rautins, bantering by way of highlights of the Raptors’ star sophomore Scottie Barnes throughout TSN’s dwell pregame present. Grey requires the management room to run again a spotlight of Barnes dunking on two Chicago Bulls.
“One more time, just for Leo,” Nurse says. “So he can use this in his next pickup game.”
Rautins, the 62-year-old veteran Raptors commentator, is a prepared goal amongst his millennial colleagues. The former Team Canada participant and head coach absorbs the jabs freely as the previous man on set. He believes he sits beside the future of Canadian basketball commentary in 26-year-old Nurse.
“Have you been dunked on?” Rautins asks Nurse.
“No,” she laughs. “I get out of the way.”
“Leo’s face lets you know he’s been dunked on quite a few times,” Grey says, as they minimize to business.
Verbruggen and her father wait by way of the total half-hour pregame present for an opportunity to sneak in a fast assembly with Nurse. She wore a Pascal Siakam jersey, however her favourite is the Team Canada No. 5 Nurse jersey she has at house. The St. Thomas Shock level guard — who mimics the bruising however cerebral type of her idol — had hoped to fulfill Nurse throughout a visit to Chicago when the Phoenix Mercury had been taking part in the Sky, however they weren’t capable of attain her.
As the announcement of the Raptors beginning lineup blasts over the area audio system, Nurse shouts to introduce herself to Verbruggen, who fiddles along with her fingers nervously. It’s a short interplay and Verbruggen says little past good day, along with her father filling in the blanks. Nurse pulls her shut for a photograph and the tween beams ecstatically.
It occurs usually, often youthful youngsters who discover Nurse in entrance of the digital camera and need to say good day. It’s been taking place since she rose to nationwide fame as the 19-year-old star of the Canadian nationwide workforce, the place she scored 33 factors in opposition to a powerhouse United States workforce to win gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games. She went on to win back-to-back NCAA championships with the UConn Huskies earlier than changing into a WNBA All-Star.
In an period stuffed with Canadian basketball expertise, Nurse has turn out to be one of a number of well-known northern faces of the recreation. In women’s basketball, particularly, Nurse is the beacon for youth trying towards a beforehand uncharted path to a life and profession in the sport. For most of her WNBA colleagues which means taking part in abroad throughout the offseason to make life work financially. But Nurse’s rising profile as an on-air analyst has allowed her to stay house, serving to construct the sport for the subsequent era of Canadian expertise.
After the Raptors’ victory over the Houston Rockets, Nurse walks down the aisles towards the courtroom for a postgame hit. Several followers double-take as she passes amid the movement towards the exit.
A pair of middle-aged followers in Kyle Lowry and Siakam jerseys cease and ask to take a selfie along with her. Another man nudges a good friend, excitedly.
“Oh, whoa,” he says. “That’s Kia Nurse!”
None of this was attainable in the creativeness of the 10-year-old woman watching her older sister play for the University of Oregon. Tamika Nurse was the pinnacle of what Kia hoped for in basketball. Tamika, 9 years older, represented Canada on the junior nationwide workforce and earned a U.S. school scholarship.
Basketball was a way to an finish, Tamika says. Growing up, the objective was to get a free schooling at a terrific faculty by way of the sport after which get a job. The cash being provided in the WNBA didn’t evaluate to beginning a profession after school.
Nurse idolized her sister, usually to the level of annoyance. She took out her aggressive drive, a Nurse household trait, on her brother, Darnell. He was drawn to hockey and lacrosse. She was all in on soccer and basketball. But when it got here to the inevitable conflict of siblings, Kia took particular be aware of her victories, whether or not in a make-shift recreation of sofa-cushion soccer in the household’s house in Hamilton, or at cross-country meets the place — as famous in faculty bulletins — the extra athletically gifted sister raced to the end line whereas Darnell lumbered to the modest center. Playing basketball on the neighbor’s roll-out web was little competitors. Darnell was lanky in his youth, having but to develop into his physique, and he lacked the pure athletic ability his youthful sibling possessed.
Both labored exhausting, although. In the Nurse household that was a given. Richard and Cathy Nurse raised their youngsters inside the classes sports activities present. Richard was a former vast receiver for the Hamilton Tiger Cats, although in his thoughts he by no means fairly accepted the “former” designation. To today, in his mid-50s, he’ll problem anybody in his household to a 40-yard sprint. Cathy was a degree guard for the McMaster Marauders, identified for her bodily play.
As mother and father, they had been coaches and chauffeurs. Richard would rush house from his job in Toronto on weeknights, change from his swimsuit and tie into his sweats, and run Kia’s basketball practices. Cathy drove the other way, ensuring Darnell arrived on time for his hockey practices and video games in Toronto’s GTHL. The mother and father would collapse close to midnight earlier than waking as much as do all of it once more.
They set a excessive customary for his or her kids, who had been usually instructed if that they had underperformed on the courtroom or on the ice — and couldn’t play in any respect if their grades slipped at college. If they wished to be nice, Richard instructed his youngsters, they needed to sacrifice issues like events or going to the mall.
“We were about accountability in our house,” Richard says. “We never gave them an out. … You couldn’t come to me and say it was the coach’s fault or it was the teacher’s fault.”
Everything needed to be earned in the Nurse family, together with buckets on that neighbor’s web, the place Kia and Darnell would battle Richard and Tamika in epic showdowns whereas Cathy litigated disputes over low-cost foul calls from the porch. It’s an upbringing for which all three siblings say they’re immensely grateful.
“There’s nothing in this world that’s given to you, no matter how you’re brought up,” says Darnell. “I’m very appreciative of the way that our parents showed us so much love and support and at the same time, held us accountable and held us to a high standard from a young age.”
Kia emerged as one of the high younger basketball abilities in the nation in her teenagers, simply as Darnell rose by way of hockey’s elite ranks, transferring away from house at 16 to affix the OHL’s Sault Greyhounds. At the similar age, Kia was invited to camp for the Canadian nationwide workforce, touring round the globe to compete in locations equivalent to China, Turkey and Mexico to symbolize her nation on the courtroom.
As each excelled in their sports activities, it was clear to Kia that there was a cap on her journey that merely didn’t exist for her brother. A high prospect, he was on his solution to a profession as an NHL defenseman. Her objective was a free schooling — no small feat in a household that prizes teachers. Nurse dreamed of the Final Four and world championships, however she knew a profession in basketball would require huge private sacrifice.
Donovan McNabb was driving to follow for the women’ softball workforce he coaches in Arizona when he answered a involved name from a good friend.
“Is Kia all right?”
McNabb had missed the begin of his niece’s playoff recreation with the Phoenix Mercury in opposition to the Las Vegas Aces and hadn’t seen her land awkwardly on a layup try and fall to the floor 40 seconds into the first quarter, clutching her proper knee. The recreation broadcast minimize to business as Kia was helped off the courtroom. McNabb’s spouse, Raquel — a former star level guard with the Syracuse Orange and Richard Nurse’s sister — was in the stands. She and Nurse’s boyfriend, John Robinson, relayed no matter data they realized about her scenario to McNabb and different members of the family.
As involved faces hovered over her in the Mercury locker room, Nurse already knew that she’d torn her ACL.
Based on what he’d heard, McNabb knew it too — and he knew what it meant. The six-time NFL Pro-Bowl quarterback tore his ACL midway by way of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2006 season. He knew the combine of anger and concern that may devour Nurse in these helpless moments as the gravity of her harm set in. Nurse was terse when she answered the name from Uncle Don, as she calls McNabb. She minimize him off instantly, saying she simply wished to go to mattress.
“It was a quick conversation,” McNabb says. “I knew emotionally where she would be.”
Nurse had come an extended solution to attain that semifinal collection with the Mercury. She represented Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics and became a star at UConn. The Huskies received two nationwide titles and reached the Final Four in every of her 4 seasons with a workforce that included Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier and was half of a 111-game profitable streak. Nurse tied the NCAA single-game event file with 9 3-pointers in opposition to Syracuse en path to the 2017 Final Four.
Nurse’s time as a Huskie would have been sufficient to fulfill her childhood targets. But after watching a number of of her Huskies teammates get drafted, the WNBA became a extra interesting vacation spot submit school, if coupled with extra profitable alternatives to play basketball abroad in the offseason. She noticed a path. The New York Liberty chosen Nurse tenth in the 2018 draft. She cut up the subsequent two years between the Liberty and the Canberra Capitals of the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia. Nurse was named a WNBA All-Star in 2019 and signed a take care of Jordan Brand the similar 12 months.
She was traded to the Mercury earlier than the 2021 season, a transfer that introduced her near her aunt, uncle and 4 cousins — two women and two boys. In Phoenix, Nurse became like an enormous sister to the youngsters. They’d battle on the courtroom at the McNabb family, sporting Jordan gear offered by Nurse. They’d attend Mercury video games sporting their Nurse jerseys. Lexi McNabb, the eldest, is a degree guard like her cousin — and is now taking part in in her first season at Syracuse University.
“It’s the successful big sis that every kid needs for motivation and drive,” McNabb says. “Her path was very similar to where their path is now. I told my oldest that she needs to follow Kia … because (she’s) the bar. Kia had Tamika — and now Lexi has Kia.”
The household help in Phoenix additionally offered the similar values discovered in Richard and Cathy’s house in Hamilton. The McNabbs used the similar tell-it-like-it-is mentality as the Nurses, so the Mercury level guard usually acquired sincere assessments of her recreation from her uncle (who was a walk-on reserve for the Syracuse Orange basketball workforce whereas changing into a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in the different sport he performed).
“She understands my true love for her because I’m always up front with her,” McNabb says.
The torn ACL was devastating for Nurse, however McNabb did his greatest to offer steering by way of the unsure months after surgical procedure. “I tried to help her to understand who she is and her worth,” he says. McNabb instructed her to deal with understanding the progress of her restoration — and that the highway she was going to should journey won’t lead her again to the place she was earlier than the harm.
Nurse bends to clutch a entice bar carrying 275 kilos. She exhales sharply.
“Crush the grip,” says Matt Nichol, the famend strength-and-conditioning coach Nurse has labored with for a number of years.
She lifts and squats, thrice in a row, with ease.
The exercise — in an previous airport hangar in north Toronto that Nichol transformed into an enormous coaching facility — is targeted on constructing stability and explosive energy in Nurse’s legs. She wears blue Canberra Capitals shorts that disguise an extended scar above her proper knee.
“My legs never looked like this,” she says, noting the sculpted bulk of her quads.
Nurse is stronger than she’s ever been. During her year-long restoration from the torn ACL, she labored out in Nichol’s fitness center alongside regionally primarily based professional athletes like the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin and the Golden State Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins. She’s packed on muscle to ensure her knee has the stability to endure a precarious fall or twist.
Nichol places extra weight on the bar: 315 kilos.
“Strong legs. Strong grip,” he says. “Easy. One rep.”
Nurse, 165 kilos, rises shortly and units the weights again on the floor gently.
“Easy! Look at that,” Nichol says, as Nurse steps up onto a three-foot field, jumps down with two ft and explodes up like she is grabbing a rebound. Students from the Blyth Academy, an athletics-focused non-public faculty that shares the facility, stare over at Nurse as she works out.
It’s been greater than a 12 months since Nurse performed in a WNBA recreation. The Mercury prolonged her deal, paying her the similar $73,500 wage she’d earned on her preliminary four-year rookie contract, hopeful that she may return to play. But she wasn’t capable of recuperate in time and missed the total 2022 season. In October, Nurse made her return with the Canadian workforce at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Australia, alongside veteran nationwide workforce stars Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton, who each play for the Minnesota Lynx. On her first possession again, Nurse drew a foul on a basket off a back-cut, turned to her teammates and set free an emotional roar.
Nurse lives about an hour west in Hamilton, simply down the highway from the home the place she grew up. At 26, she bought her first house, the place she lives along with her boyfriend and Prim, their German shorthaired pointer. Tamika lives round the block, which permits her sister to be “Aunt Kiki” to her 2 1/2-year-old son, Jaxson.
Though she spent months in Phoenix throughout her rehab and stayed near the Mercury when she was ready, Nurse has settled into life again house. The location is essential, not solely as a result of of Nurse’s shut ties to household but additionally as a result of of what it permits her to do for basketball in Canada.
In mid-November, she ran the first basketball clinic for the Kia Nurse Basketball Academy, a program she developed along with her father to offer alternatives in the recreation to younger gamers in the area. The Kia Nurse Elite program — a journey workforce in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League — has run for a number of years and is the solely Jordan-sponsored workforce in Canada.
Unlike many WNBA gamers who’ve gone abroad to earn a residing, Nurse has discovered a solution to stay in North America throughout the WNBA offseason. In 2019, TSN — one of Canada’s two main sports activities broadcasters — employed her as a commentator for the males’s NCAA Tournament. Nervous forward of her first look, she memorized particular particulars about each single workforce in March Madness.
Producer Michael Tawfik Hamarneh instructed her to calm down and draw on her experiences. Nurse was, in any case, the solely particular person in the studio who had been to 4 Final Fours and received two nationwide championships. After a couple of broadcasts, she leaned into that wealth of expertise.
As a WNBA free agent, she remains to be unsure the place she’s going to play subsequent season, however Nurse is assured she’ll be a stronger and smarter participant than when she left.
Nurse’s brother has little doubt she’s going to.
“I’m very proud to see her growth, obviously as a basketball player, but as a person to be able to capitalize on the skills that she’s used to build out a life that a lot of young female athletes can look to and be like, ‘Hey, this is attainable. This is achievable,’” says Darnell. “It’s a very cool thing to see.”
For now, the staggered WNBA and NBA seasons enable her to proceed her taking part in profession whereas incomes a residing and constructing a future in broadcasting. Instead of spending her time taking part in abroad, sporting down her physique in a relentless cycle of seasons, Nurse is ready to follow in a basketball facility in the previous hangar subsequent to Nichol’s fitness center earlier than hitting the weights. The cycle of relaxation and focused coaching — she additionally works with a coach in Hamilton — has allowed her to take pleasure in the comforts of house.
“In a world full of uncertainty … I like to control things,” Nurse says. “Now I have control of where my path is. I know what I’m doing. I know where my home is. … I can train as hard as I ever have (and) I can still play for the national team. They always say you can’t have it all — but I’ve got a pretty good hold on what is all for me right now.”
As a trailblazer for girls in Canadian basketball, Nurse has used her profile to attempt to create higher alternatives for the subsequent generations studying the recreation in Canada.
Nurse and her teammates pushed for higher assets for the Canadian women’s nationwide workforce. Players now fly top notch to worldwide occasions and don’t should share resort rooms. A brand new collective settlement between gamers and the WNBA in 2020 improved salaries, journey situations and offered full pay for gamers on maternity depart.
When she was younger, she couldn’t even watch her sister’s NCAA Tournament video games on tv. But all of Nurse’s appearances in the Final Four with UConn aired in Canada. “The next generation is going to be able to see their colleges. I couldn’t see it,” says Nurse. “They need to see it or they won’t understand.”
Toronto has brazenly sought a WNBA franchise — and the third-largest market between the U.S. and Canada is broadly thought of a frontrunner to land a workforce when the WNBA expands with two extra franchises by 2025. Nurse could be thrilled to see the growth north.
“It opens up the core of these fans to see women’s basketball at the highest level, which is huge,” Nurse says. “Hockey’s not on when we play. (The Raptors) aren’t on when we play — so you can a get a live basketball fix in the summer time.”
It would additionally push ahead grassroots applications throughout the nation, creating extra space for folks to play, Nurse says.
There’s already a passionate WNBA fanbase in the nation and the women’s nationwide workforce, at present ranked fifth in the world by FIBA, has a loyal following. The WNBA is planning exhibition video games in Canada subsequent summer time, which Nurse says can be a great indicator of what the fan base is like. Nurse says she hopes no matter workforce she indicators with subsequent will get to play north of the border.
Nurse is one of solely three Canadian WNBA gamers, together with Achonwa and Carleton. But that quantity is prone to rise. This 12 months there are greater than 100 Canadians taking part in in the NCAA. Laeticia Amihere, a 6-4 senior at South Carolina, is anticipated to be chosen in the WNBA draft subsequent April. Aaliyah Edwards, a junior at UConn, is anticipated to be drafted the following 12 months. Amihere and Edwards confronted one another in final 12 months’s NCAA closing, received by South Carolina. Shayeann Day-Wilson is a standout guard at Duke and was the ACC freshman of the 12 months final season.
Nurse is hopeful that this era is simply the begin of what’s to return.
Nurse stands on a courtroom surrounded by dozens of middle-school women who’ve spent a Sunday afternoon working drills at the University of Toronto and making an attempt to glean any recommendation they will get from her. She’s joined by WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who has made the journey to Toronto for the league’s Her Time to Play occasion, meant to champion women’s sports activities at an age the place many gamers give up sports activities.
It’s a problem Nurse studied for a thesis she wrote at UConn and has underpinned her efforts to point out others that there’s a manner for women to seek out pleasure and success by way of basketball, regardless of the stage they attain.
As gamers take their seats in the bleachers and dig by way of boxed lunches, Nurse stands on the hardwood, like a professor trying up at her keen college students. She’s requested them to share their basketball tales and desires and she or he sees her journey mirrored in them.
One of the gamers raises her hand and asks about the pursuit of desires — about making it work, as a woman in a recreation.
“I promise you,” Nurse tells her. “This is something you can do long-term. You can make a living playing basketball.”
Before lengthy, the gamers are known as again for an additional spherical of drills.
“All right, ladies,” an teacher says, hustling them to the courtroom. They every decide up an orange and white ball from a rack. The women unfold out throughout the baselines. On the whistle, they cost — every controlling a ball as they run, creating area and discovering their manner by way of a transferring maze as Nurse weaves amongst them.
(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; Photos: Barry Gossage / NBAE through Getty Images, Kelly Defina / Getty Images)
How Kia Nurse became the face of women’s basketball in Canada
How Kia Nurse became the face of women’s basketball in Canada
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How Kia Nurse became the face of women’s basketball in Canada