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Gaucher hoping to lead Canada to top-finish finish at basketball World Cup

09/24/2014 12:26 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST
Kim Gaucher walked off the court at the London Olympics believing she'd played her last game for Canada.

Her retirement lasted two months.

The Canadian women had shown promise in London and looked to be a team on the rise. And Gaucher — who'd felt more than her share of frustration in her 12 years with a team that had always come so close — wanted to be a part of it.

"The Olympics are really fun. And I've been on this team for so long, and realistically London could have been my third Olympics (they were her first) . . . But so many times we couldn't qualify," Gaucher said.

"And there's been so much work and effort into making the Canadian senior women's team better, and it's been a long fight for the (previous) coaches and administrators, and you feel like you're kind of finally reaping those rewards. We are getting good. I feel like we have the chance to medal and that's something I wanted to be a part of.

"I still love it. So I said 'Why not go four more years?'"

The ninth-ranked Canadians are in Turkey for the FIBA women's World Cup — basketball's world championship. They tip off Saturday against Mozambique in a tournament that could go along way toward helping Canada qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"It's kind of like that midterm exam, when you think of the quad, with the Olympics kind of being at the end of each quad," said coach Lisa Thomaidis. "Then you've got your world championships that are midway checkpoint for us.

"We still are in a bit of a transition phase (with post-London retirements). So our best is still yet to come down the road, but I think we've made some really good strides in the last two years. This is a great opportunity for us again just to see how we measure up on the world stage and to be at a major international competition is going to be really good for this team."

Gaucher, a 30-year-old from Mission, B.C., guided Canada to a quarter-final berth at the London Games, scoring 13.8 points a game and shooting 50 per cent from three-point range.

She originally planned to retire along with fellow veterans Teresa Gabriele and Chelsea Aubrey. Thomaidis is thankful she didn't.

Gaucher and Shona Thorburn, a guard from Hamilton, are the veterans of a team that includes relative newcomers Miah-Marie Langlois of Windsor, Ont., and Kia Nurse, also of Hamilton.

"It's like having two other coaches (Gaucher and Thorburn) at every practice, just with that different perspective when they're on the floor competing with them," Thomaidis said. "And at every timeout and stoppage in play, they're able to offer advice and tips.

"They'be been tremendous, they're such great people and they've been such good leaders for us. They're really leaving a lasting legacy on these young players."

Gaucher, who was a star guard for the University of Utah and went 13th overall to the Sacramento Monarchs in the 2006 WNBA draft, gladly shoulders her new role.

"I know my role on the team is going to change from what it was," she said. "I enjoy being able to mentor some of the younger athletes, and trying to teach them the tricks and strategies of the international game.

"I love this program, I have so much pride when I play for Canada and I want to be able to pass that along to the younger generation so they keep on getting better."

Canada is hoping to improve on its 12th-place finish at the 2010 world championship. It will have to make it out of a group that also includes fourth-ranked France, which won silver in London, and host Turkey. Three of the four teams advance to the quarter-finals of the 16-country tournament.

"With world championships and with any major international tournament, it's all about when you get your wins," Thomaidis said. "And if we can get those timed right and get through to the top eight that will be absolutely fantastic."

While Gaucher said a world championship doesn't draw the same audience back in Canada as an Olympic appearance does, it's a huge tournament for the Canadian women.

"The Olympics, the world is watching," she said. "But when you're at the world championships, it's the biggest stage you can be on for your sport.

"And while not as many people in Canada know about it, or consider it a big deal, it's a huge accomplishment, and it's definitely a big deal in the countries that we play in."

Canada will definitely be watching the women next summer — first in Toronto at the Pan American Games, and then in Edmonton, which is hosting the women's FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.

Those home events figured in Gaucher's decision to return to the Canadian squad for another Olympic run.

"Pan Ams in Toronto and to be able to host an Olympic qualifier — they're unreal opportunities," she said.

Edmonton marks the first time the Olympic qualifying tournament has been held in Canada since 1995 when Hamilton's McMaster University played host. Playing at home will be "massive," Thomaidis said, in the team's quest to qualify for Rio.

"Between (1995) and now, we've been to Colombia, Chile, we were in the Dominican Republic. . . all great countries to vacation in, but not the countries you want to go to to have to qualify for an Olympic Games." she said. "So just the fact that we're going to be in friendly confines, we're going to be in a facility that we've been training in for the last two years, I'm sure there will be great support for the tournament and we'll get great crowds out, so it will make a big difference for us."

Natalie Achonwa of Guelph, Ont., is the one key player Canada is missing in Turkey. The former Notre Dame star tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her final appearance for the Fighting Irish and is still recovering.

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