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Achonwa to be back playing this summer, hopes to play in WNBA and for Canada

02/04/2015 03:04 EST | Updated 04/06/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Her days are filled with booking flights, planning meals, and scheduling practice times for Notre Dame's women's basketball team.

Thankfully, it's left Natalie Achonwa little time to fixate on the knee injury that kept her out of both last year's NCAA Final Four, and the women's world championships.

The 22-year-old from Guelph, Ont., who tore her ACL last March in what would be her final game for Notre Dame, is now the team's director of operations.

"Notre Dame as a whole, the medical staff, the coaching staff and the whole athletic department actually has been huge in my rehab, both because they did my surgery and have been in charge of my rehab so far, as well as just kind of being there mentally, emotionally, keeping me busy, so my mind doesn't wander too much," Achonwa said.

Achonwa was in Indianapolis this week to work with the training staff of the Indiana Fever, the professional team who saw past her knee injury when they took her ninth overall in the WNBA draft last year.

She hasn't been cleared for full-contact practising, but is back running, jumping and shooting. She's been told she'll be back in top form to play this summer. That's good news for the six-foot-three forward who hopes to combine playing her rookie season in the WNBA with representing Canada at both the Pan American Games in Toronto and at the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Edmonton.

The basketball draw for the Pan Ams was scheduled to be released Thursday morning.

But for now, she's thinking about Notre Dame's trip to play at Boston College this weekend and what the travelling entails.

"Friday will be making sure I have menus together for our meals, that (the players) have our itineraries, that practice times are in line. . ." said Achonwa, who travels with the team and sits on the bench during games.

"When we fly charter it's a lot easier. One of trips when we flew commercial this year was really messy. . . we were in the airport, running through the airport, missed our flight, had to re-book a flight, missed another flight, had to re-book another flight. So that was the messiest day."

Achonwa will split time between Notre Dame's campus in South Bend, Ind., and Indianapolis as the Fever takes over her training and rehabilitation. The WNBA season tips off June 5, and so the Fever will need to release Achonwa — a key piece in Canada's Olympic qualifying — to play at Pan Ams and the FIBA Americas tournament.

"The relationship that I've had with the Fever is very open and very honest, and that's the kind of person that I am," said Achonwa. "So I've had conversations with both parties so we can make sure I'll be able to do it all.

"The Fever know my heart is in Canada Basketball, they've been a huge factor in getting me to where I am today. And as well I am now a professional athlete and I was drafted, so I do have to play in the WNBA this summer and I'm looking forward to it. But I think we're going to work it out."

Canada's women were fifth at last summer's world championships despite missing Achonwa, who helped Notre Dame to four NCAA Final Four appearances, and was a part of the Canadian squad that reached the quarter-finals at the London Olympics.

She says her injury layoff has taught her some big lessons about appreciation that she'll carry forward in her career.

"First, working with Notre Dame and being on the other side. . . seeing what the coaches do, seeing what our media department does, seeing the back side of it, really makes me appreciate everything that everyone else does to make your career in playing basketball that much easier.

"And second, I appreciate every day that I was tired in practice, I appreciate every moment that I felt like I couldn't go one more rep, because now I haven't been able to do even that single rep. So the moments where I felt like I couldn't go any further, I appreciate those the most, because now not even having the ability to go one round, definitely makes me miss it."

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