On the heels of a tough WNBA campaign, Kia Nurse will see home in the off-season for the first time since Grade 7.
Nurse, the 24-year-old Canadian New York Liberty guard, is also the reigning MVP of the Australian women’s league. But she made the decision not to return down under before the pandemic, instead taking a gig with TSN as an NBA and WNBA analyst.
That makes for the first time in a long time Nurse won’t be playing basketball year-round.
“You just don’t know when the ball is going to stop bouncing. You know, any time you step on the court, you put yourself at risk for it to be the end. So for me, it was a matter of I did the March Madness stuff with TSN in 2019 and I loved it,” Nurse said.
More than anything, this WNBA season promises to be remembered for the players’ social justice initiatives. The name Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman shot and killed by Kentucky police in March, graced the back of each player’s jersey.
Atlanta Dream players wore shirts reading ‘Vote Warnock,’ supporting the opponent of team owner and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler after she decried the league’s association with Black Lives Matter.
After the August shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., players walked out on games in protest.
A September grand jury decision brought no charges against the Louisville police who shot Taylor, and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired officer Brett Hankison.
“With the ruling on the Taylor case not necessarily meaning justice, that was hard to see. And that was disappointing because it’s what we have been fighting for, it’s what we’ve been talking about and we’re going to continue to fight. That really just means that our fight isn’t over and that the awareness that we want to bring to the stories and the names of Black and brown women who are also affected by police brutality and social injustice — people don’t necessarily march in the streets for everybody,” Nurse said.
“For me, when you ask me if something’s successful, I think the work is done. I’ll tell you it’s a success. But if it’s not you’ve got to keep working.”
WATCH | Nurse, other athletes react to ruling in Taylor case:
Outside of injury, Nurse’s basketball career promises to be a long one. She says the analyst role gives her a different perspective on the game that can be carried over to the court.
Of course, the Canadian would rather be playing in the WNBA Finals than doing TV analysis from quarantine in her Hamilton, Ont., home.
The Liberty’s season was a trying one, as evidenced by their 2-20 record. Nurse, a 2019 all-star, injured her ankle in the first game before top pick Sabrina Ionescu saw her season end in a flash with a severe ankle sprain two games later.
That left a gimpy Nurse to carry the load on a team playing a WNBA-record seven rookies.
The Canadian went from the bubble in Bradenton, Fla., straight to New York following the season to work with team doctors on injury rehab. Now back home, Nurse says it’s all about rest to let the ankle heal.
Nurse wound up playing 21 of the Liberty’s 22 games, starting 18 of them. But her numbers took a clear hit from the season prior: points per game dropped from 13.7 to 12.2, while her three-point percentage fell from 35 to 24 and overall shooting went from 39 per cent to 27 per cent.
Those are concerning numbers for someone known as a shooter. The ankle is one explanation for Nurse’s step back, but the downturn could also be explained by the Canadian’s increased role.
WATCH | Nurse reaches 1,000 career points:
Once Ionescu was lost, Nurse became a WNBA team’s top option for the first time.
“Obviously, that becomes a bit of my role as well when I go into the national team. So being able to try and navigate that and finding ways to be successful and finding ways to look at, ‘This is how the defence stopped me this year. This is what they did to slow me down,'” Nurse said.
“So how do I counteract that in my off-season and learning different ways and adding different things to my game to be better?”
The plan for now is to work on strength to avoid future injury, and balance to be able to knock down contested shots. Nurse says she lost some of the latter heading into the bubble.
WNBA lessons ahead of Olympics
Watching from France, where she plays a leadership role for a team in Mondeville, Team Canada veteran Kim Gaucher saw an improved Nurse despite the shooting woes.
“To be on a young team is tough, but I think it’s going to be really great for her. Her development as a leader to be on such a young team is kind of a different attitude that you have to be in an environment like that,” Gaucher said.
Nurse and Gaucher may not have many opportunities to play together before the Tokyo Olympics next summer. The first international competition window begins Nov. 8, but Canada won’t compete against other countries, and given the players’ spread across the world, may not be able to convene at all.
“We have to grow and learn and become better basketball players individually so that when we come back together as a team, collectively, we’ve grown a little bit,” Nurse said. “And we stay in contact on Zoom calls and we have conversations and we watch them and we try to keep it as close-knit as possible, even though we’re pretty distant.”
Nurse says she interacted with fellow Canadians Bridget Carleton, Kayla Alexander and Natalie Achonwa during the WNBA season, but overlapping schedules made it tough to take conversations beyond pleasantries.
The WNBA Finals featuring the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces begin Friday. Nurse’s pick?
“I would go with Seattle. I think they have such a championship pedigree and they have this experience together, having success and winning a WNBA championship already in recent years. So during the Finals, they’re a pretty well-oiled machine.”