MacKinnon: Canada’s offence involves quick thinking and a team approach

 

It took years for players to buy into a new way to play the game

 
 
 
 
Sendy Basaez of Chile drives past Cuba’s Yamara Amargo during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
 
 

Sendy Basaez of Chile drives past Cuba’s Yamara Amargo during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.

Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Canada, with its passing, hard cutting, everybody-moves-everybody-scores offence, has made it look easy in assembling a 3-0 won-lost record so far at the FIBA Americas Women’s Championship.

The Canadians have outscored their opponents by an aggregate of 298-129, including a 111-36 thrashing of the Dominican Republic on Tuesday night. The host team faces Cuba, 3-0, in a showdown for first place in Group A at 6:30 Thursday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.

Anyway, Canada is on a roll and the offence has looked fluid and efficient so far. It turns out that efficiency did not come easily.

When asked how difficult it was for Team Canada to master the Princeton offence that head coach Lisa Thomaidis runs, 33-year-old guard Shona Thorburn just rolled her eyes. Then she provided some context.

“Well, obviously, before we had trouble scoring, so we needed something new,” said Thorburn. “And then the Princeton offence? It took years for us to become comfortable with it and get the hang of it and see what kind of opens up from running it. Honestly? Four years.”

Allison McNeill, who preceded Thomaidis as head coach, installed the system in the run-up to the 2010 world championships and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“We spent hours practising 5-on-0, going through Princeton movements, trying to figure it out, we really did,” Thorburn said. “We still do.

“I think it definitely took away from some people’s games. It’s not an offence where you’re going to have someone who scores 20 points or take a lot off the dribble. It’s a team offence, so all five players share to be able to score. That was a big adjustment; everyone had to buy into it and that took us few years.

“I still think we can get better at it. There are some times where you see us a little confused. That’s just because someone is out of position and you really need to be in your positions.

“We’re probably only at around a 7 or 7-1/2, which is good. We have room for improvement,” she added.

The system evolves as the personnel changes, as a Kia Nurse joins the team or the Plouffe twins, Katherine and Michelle. With its hard cutting and motion, a high degree of fitness is basic to this offence, so Canada’s vaunted depth goes hand-in-glove with the success of the system.

Thomaidis, who was named head coach three years ago, reckons Canada is up to Princeton 3.0 at this point, as she has introduced changes, year-over-year, keeping things fresh for her players, keeping opponents off balance.

“It was a challenge (at first),” Thomaidis said. “In 2012, we were so successful playing a very disciplined style of Princeton, very by-the-book.

“Full credit to Allison then, because we had to play that way. We really out-executed teams and probably overachieved at the London Olympics by finishing top eight.

“But we knew for us to take that next step up, we had to make some changes. We had to play it a different way. So the players had seen success in 2012 and I think it certainly took some time and work and some proof for them to totally buy in.

“They weren’t quite ready for the blind faith right off the hop. I think over the last year, in particular, there has been full buy-in. They saw where we could take this team, especially with the result last year at worlds (fifth place). It’s a no-brainer.”

Actually, thinking — individually and collectively — is absolutely key to successfully running the Princeton offence.

“It’s a smart offence. You need smart players, you need people who can make reads,” Thorburn said.

Nurse, 19, obviously qualifies, as her precocious success has demonstrated.

“We have run similar kinds of things at (University of Connecticut), just at a different level,” Nurse said. “It’s pretty complex; it just takes a while to get used to it.”

Nurse reckons it took her all of one summer to grasp the Princeton concepts.

“I’m pretty good at catching onto things pretty quickly,” Nurse said. “I’m a kinetic learner, so if I can do it a bunch of times, then I can learn it pretty quickly.”

That minor learning curve for Nurse on the offensive side of things amazed Thomaidis, who knew the teenager would take some lumps on defence for a while.

“You might be a tremendous athlete, but they’re smarter,” Thomaidis said of opponents who might have 10-15 years of experience on Nurse. “If you’re playing against a more experienced, smarter guard, they’re going to make you pay.

“She’s always had success at the offensive end, due to her athleticism. But then again, learning a whole new style of game and a whole new system speaks to her intelligence.

“She was able to pick up on that and run our offence as a 17-year-old, first-year guard. It was astounding.”

Nurse and Team Canada hope to be at their kinetic, quick-thinking best Thursday night when they meet Cuba.

jmackinnon@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/rjmackinnon

Check out my blog at edmontonjournal.com/Sweatsox

 
 
 
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Sendy Basaez of Chile drives past Cuba’s Yamara Amargo during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
 

Sendy Basaez of Chile drives past Cuba’s Yamara Amargo during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.

Photograph by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal

 
Sendy Basaez of Chile drives past Cuba’s Yamara Amargo during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Canada’s Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe tries to pass the ball with Chile’s Barbara Cousino in her face during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 10, 2015.
Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal
Chile’s Sendy Basaez drives the lane against Cuba during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship basketball game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal
Clenia Noblet of Cuba shoots over Marisol Gamboa of Chile during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship basketball game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Sendy Basaez of Chile drives past Cuba’s Yamara Amargo during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Anisleidy Galindo of Cuba drives against Sendy Basaez of Chile during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship basketball game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Lizanne Murphy of Canada makes a pass a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game against the Dominican Republic at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 11, 2015.
Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal
Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal
Greg Southam/Edmonton Journal
Canada’s Shona Thorburn is double-teamed by Chile’s Angela Angotzi (14) and Thiare Garcia (4) as she tries to pass the ball during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship game at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Aug. 10, 2015.
Cuba’s Yamara Amargo is fouled by Milena Koljanin of Chile during a FIBA Americas Women’s Championship basketball game on Wednesday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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