Canada’s senior women’s basketball program’s new head coach is going to want to familiarize himself with Winnipeg’s Emily Potter right away.
Canada Basketball announced Thursday that Víctor Lapeña, a former assistant with Spain’s women’s team and a head coach in the Turkish Super League, will lead the red and white through the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Lapeña takes over for Lisa Thomaidis, the head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies who guided Canada to back-to-back Olympic appearances.
Lapeña is also bringing the head coach of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, Noelle Quinn, on as an assistant. Quinn played 12 seasons in the WNBA before finishing her playing career in 2018 with the Storm. Potter attended Seattle’s training camp that season.
"I know Canada Basketball has taken their time in the last few months to search and find someone to lead the team to new heights and get Canada onto the podium. I’m excited to see what type of energy and style of play these coaches will bring," Potter told the Free Press in a phone interview.
"Everyone just wants the program to keep elevating and getting better, so I’m excited to see where things will go."
If Potter keeps up the way she’s currently playing, she’ll certainly make a strong first impression with the new boss. After two seasons of pro basketball in the Czech Republic, Potter is now in Greece with Esperides Basketball Club and putting up big numbers. The Glenlawn Collegiate product closed out 2021 with four straight double-doubles while averaging 23 points and 15 rebounds per game. Last week, Canada Basketball named Potter, a 6-6 centre who shined at the University of Utah before turning pro, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the country’s players of the week.
"I’m currently 26 and this is my fourth year overseas but I still feel like I’m trending upwards and starting to enter my prime, which is really great," said Potter.
"I’m going to keep trying to get better and better and I still think there are areas of my game that I can improve and I’m excited to attack those areas. This summer, shooting a ton of threes was kind of my goal, I really want to be able to shoot threes, and now I’ve been able to bring that to my game in Greece."
But it hasn’t been all fun and games in Greece. The Greek Women’s Basketball League is starting to feel the sting of the Omicron variant as half of the teams in the league have active cases. A few of Potter’s teammates tested positive after the holiday break and are unable to practise with the team. Esperides was supposed to return to game action on Jan. 9 but league is hitting the pause button for two weeks. Unfortunately, none of this is new to Potter. In Oct. 2020 with KP Brno, Potter was one of many players to test positive and the Czech Republic league was forced to postpone its season after only a few weeks of play.
"I definitely had that moment where I was like ‘Oh my gosh, it feels like we’re in March 2020 where everything started.’ I’m just trying to stay optimistic that it’ll be a two week break and we’ll get back at it," Potter said.
"Thankfully, everyone I know that has had COVID here, it’s been very mild cases with the variant. With all of us being vaccinated as well, hopefully it takes the edge off of everyone being sick. It’s not fun and when we come back we probably won’t have any fans again. It was fun to have those fans, but at the end of the day, I’m here to play basketball and thankfully, I’m still able to practice every day in the gym."
Potter got a lot of practise in November when she was one of 15 players invited to Toronto for a week-long national team camp at the Toronto Raptors practice court inside Scotia Bank Arena. The camp marked the beginning of the three-year cycle to the 2024 Olympics. Potter, the first player in Utah’s school history to finish their career with over 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks, has represented the national team at various events for six years, including the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru. She hopes to have a roster spot in February when Team Canada heads to Japan for a FIBA Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament. Australia is the host of the 2022 Women’s World Cup (Sept. 22-Oct. 1).
But it’s not an easy lineup to crack as the Canadian women are currently the No. 4-ranked team in the world.
"Whenever I leave a Canada Basketball camp, I always leave there feeling more excited and more hungry to go back to my team and be more of a leader. It’s a great environment to be a part of," Potter said.
"I think I’m playing my best basketball right now and I feel like I had a great camp back in November. I’m doing all that I can on my end to try to do my best here in Greece. I’m hopeful I can be on that squad in February, but there’s so many other great deserving players as well so I just have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll know for certain if I’m going to Japan or not."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.