Kia Nurse and Miranda Ayim in the quarterfinal game at Rio 2016 against France (COC/March Blinch)

Team Canada all-time starting five in women’s basketball

At all levels of collegiate, professional, and international basketball, Canadian women have made a major impact over the decades — and the footprint is only continuing to grow.

From Team Canada’s first Olympic appearance at Montreal 1976 to a top-5 FIBA ranking in 2023, Canada has grown by leaps and bounds as a women’s basketball nation. So it’s no surprise that an all-time Canada basketball team would be star-studded.

Here is one take on a Team Canada all-time starting five for women’s basketball, along with some super valuable backups:

Centre – Tammy Sutton-Brown

Tammy Sutton-Brown spent 12 seasons in the WNBA, despite being a second round selection in the 2001 WNBA Draft. By 2002, she was already one of the premier post players in the league and was named to the 2002 WNBA All-Star Game after averaging 11.9 points and six rebounds per game with the Charlotte Sting. She joined Stacey Dales of the Washington Mystics as the first Canadian WNBA All-Stars in league history.

Sutton-Brown returned to WNBA All-Star game in 2007 in her first season with the Indiana Fever, where she averaged 12.0 points, and 5.4 rebounds per game. In her final season, Sutton-Brown went out as a champion with the Fever, helping them claim their first ever championship playing a veteran role for the team.

Sutton-Brown made one Olympic appearance for Canada at Sydney 2000. She averaged 10.3 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game in six games with Team Canada.

In June 2023, Sutton-Brown and Rowan Barrett were inducted into the 2023 Class of the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame.

Guard/Forward – Kia Nurse

From the moment Kia Nurse stepped on the court for the prestigious University of Connecticut basketball team, she was a problem for opposing defenses across the NCAA. Nurse met every high expectation that came with choosing UConn, as she immediately became a key piece of the rotation, starting all but three games during her freshman season.

She was named Freshman of the Year in her conference en route to winning the first of two NCAA national titles in 2015. In 2016, UConn repeated as national champions and Nurse started all 36 games she played. She was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year in her final season and scored a collegiate career-high 13.5 points per game.

Nurse was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty and was named an All-Star in her sophomore season. She currently plays for the Seattle Storm.

Nurse’s marquee moment playing for the women’s national team came in the gold medal game of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. She put up 33 points on 10-for-17 shooting and added three assists in Canada’s historic 81-73 win against the U.S. It made her a natural choice to be Team Canada’s Closing Ceremony flag bearer. Nurse has competed in two Olympic Games for Team Canada at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.

Forward – Natalie Achonwa

At age 16, Guelph, Ontario native Natalie Achonwa became the youngest player to ever play on the Canadian national team in 2009. The 30-year-old has played in three Olympic Games for Team Canada and was on the Pan Am Games team that won gold at Toronto 2015.

Achonwa’s successful career was highlighted by being the first international player to ever play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. She was named to the All-American third team and All-ACC second team in her senior year with the Irish. After being drafted ninth overall by the Indiana Fever, she was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team in 2015. She has spent six seasons in the WNBA, and now plays for the Minnesota Lynx.

Achonwa was the player of the game against Sweden in the 2020 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in which Canada qualified for Tokyo 2020, scoring 24 points and adding eight rebounds.

Guard – Stacey Dales

Brockville, Ontario’s Stacey Dales made a name for herself in Canada basketball circles after winning three OFSAA championships in high school before committing to play at Oklahoma. The success continued for Dales, who was was a first team All-American and Big 12 Conference Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. In her senior year she led the Sooners to the NCAA Championship game where they lost to Connecticut.

Her success continued into the pros as she was named to the 2002 All-Star Game in her rookie year with the Washington Mystics. The sharpshooter’s career was unfortunately cut short due to Raynaud’s phenomenon. She returned for a two-year stint with the Chicago Sky before retiring for a second time.

Dales played for Team Canada at Sydney 2000 where she led the team in scoring.

Guard – Bev Smith

Bev Smith is one of the iconic Canadian basketball figures, both as a player and coach in a career that spans nearly 40 years. She excelled as a scorer, ball handler, rebounder, passer, and defender throughout her collegiate, professional, and international career. She had every tool in the box and her stunning accolades prove just how dominant she was.

Smith played 12 years on the Canadian national team, winning two bronze medals at the FIBA World Championships (1979, 1986) and two bronze medals at the Pan American Games (1979, 1987). Smith was a two-time Olympian at Los Angeles 1984 and Atlanta 1996 and averaged over 10 points-per-game at both.

Canada’s Bev Smith (white jersey) playing women’s basketball at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. (CP PHOTO/COC/Scott Grant)

She played college basketball at the University of Oregon and the team had a 93-19 record while she was in the program. She held school records for points in a game, points in a season, points in a career, rebounds in a game, rebounds in a season, rebounds in a career, and assists in a career by the time she graduated. Smith returned to the program to coach from 2001 to 2009.

Smith also coached the Canadian women’s basketball team, which she led to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. She was an assistant coach with the team that won back-to-back gold medals in 2015 at the Pan American Games and FIBA Americas Championship. She was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.

Bench – Kelly Boucher

Kelly Boucher made history in 1998 when she became the first Canadian to play in the WNBA. She played just one season for the Charlotte Sting, but paved the way for a number of Canadian WNBA players who soon became commonplace in the league.

Unlike most WNBA players that followed, Boucher’s road to the W went through a Canadian university basketball program. The Calgary native played one year for her home school’s Dinos, before spending four seasons with the Victoria Vikes. She was a double-figure scorer for her entire career and was named to the Canada West All-Star team three times. She was named to the U Sports top 100 women’s basketball players of the century in 2020.

Boucher also got to play in two Olympic Games with Team Canada, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.

Canada’s Kelly Boucher points to teammates while celebrating their 56-54 semi-final women’s basketball win over Brazil at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Thursday, Aug.5, 1999. Boucher was the team’s top scorer with 17 points. (CP PHOTO/Pierre Obendrauf)

Bench – Miranda Ayim

35-year-old Miranda Ayim has been the veteran voice in Team Canada’s locker room for many years. Across three Olympic Games, Ayim is a leader and defensive anchor for Team Canada’s defence.

Ayim’s collegiate career at Pepperdine was one of the best in program history. She set the school record for blocks and earned All-West Coast Conference honours three times.

Canada’s turn as one of the top basketball countries has fallen in line with Ayim’s tenure that started in 2012. Some of the highlights includes a gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games and gold in the 2017 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup.

In her third Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020, Ayim was given the honour of serving as Team Canada’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer alongside rugby player Nathan Hirayama.

Bench – Kayla Alexander

Milton’s Kayla Alexander was one of Syracuse University’s all-time greats. When she left, she was the all-time leader in points, blocks, field goals, free throws made, free throws attempted, and games played.

She was picked eighth overall by the San Antonio Silver Stars and played five of her eight WNBA seasons for the Stars.

Her playing days with Team Canada started in 2008, winning silver with the junior national team at the U18 FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina. She made her Olympic debut with Team Canada at Tokyo 2020.

Bench – Sylvia Sweeney

Known as “Canada’s First Lady of Basketball,” Sylvia Sweeney first played on the national team in 1974 and spent a decade with the squad. At the 1979 Pan American Games, she was Team Canada’s flag bearer and capped off the Games by winning bronze. She was also voted MVP at the 1979 World Championships in Seoul. She played in two Olympic Games at Montreal 1976 and Los Angeles 1984.

  • Sylvia Sweeney dribbling past defender
  • Sylvia Sweeney

Sweeney was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994.

Bench – Aaliyah Edwards

Although Aaliyah Edwards is just beginning her career with Canada Basketball, the 20-year-old has the potential to be one of the best players of all time and she is already putting up the numbers and accolades to back it up.

Edwards followed countrymate Kia Nurse when she decided to play for the UConn Huskies in 2021. She’s already been named Big East freshman of the year in 2021 and third-team All-American in 2023. In her junior year, she averaged 16.5 points-per-game and 9.5 rebounds-per-game.

Edwards made her debut with the senior national team as a 16-year-old and made her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 where she was the youngest member of the Canadian women’s basketball team.