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Fields plays leadership role as Canada begins quest for Paris 2024 at Memorial Centre

Canadians battle Japan on Friday night
Former WNBA player Nirra Fields and the Canadian women’s national team get some final work in at CARSA gym Thursday before taking on Japan tonight at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Guard Nirra Fields has been around the court, a few courts to be exact, from the UCLA ­Bruins to the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA to the Turkish Super League.

“The younger players look at me as an example of what is possible,” said Fields, 29, as the Canadian women’s basketball team practised Thursday night at CARSA gym on the University of Victoria campus.

“They pick my brain and ask lots of questions.”

Canada is preparing for tonight’s game against Tokyo Olympic silver-medallist Japan at Save-on-Foods Memorial ­Centre.

Canada is gearing up for the FIBA AmeriCup 2023 from July 1-9 in León, Mexico, out of which eight teams will move on to the FIBA 2024 Paris Olympics qualifying Tournament of the Americas from Nov. 5-13, with the top two teams from that advancing to the FIBA 2024 Olympic qualifying ­tournaments in February. Tickets for the Canada-Japan game are at ­ and at the door.

Canada will be missing its four WNBA players tonight, as the pro league has begun play. That has put more of a ­mentorship onus on Fields and Kayla Alexander.

“I have grown in confidence and am in a senior leadership role now,” said Fields.

“This young group is working hard and is very intense. These are young, energized legs.”

They include those of ­six-foot-two, 17-year-old dunking sensation Toby Fournier, who is committed to Duke University.

The women’s basketball team is perhaps Canada’s best-kept secret in sports. While the Olympic-champion Canadian women’s soccer and ice hockey teams have received plenty of national coverage, the Canucks women’s hoopsters have also achieved a level of success by placing fourth in the 2022 World Cup. They were led by the likes of Fields, Alexander, Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa, Bridget Carleton and Sami Hill. Canada made the quarter-finals at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics and was ninth at the last Olympics in Tokyo.

“It’s been an amazing run,” said Fields, who was born in Vancouver and raised in ­Montreal. “The expectations are high to take that next step and make it into the top three and onto the podium at Paris next year.”

The process begins tonight on Blanshard.

“We have a very good feeling after the World Cup and the pieces are set in place to do something special next year,” said Canadian head coach Victor Lapena.

“But it’s a long way to Paris and it’s one step at a time.”

It begins tonight.

“We have a lack of exhibition games heading into the Olympic qualifying process so games like these against the defending Olympic silver medallists are essential to us,” said Lapena, who is from Spain.

Canada will also play Japan on Saturday and Sunday at the Memorial Centre in closed-door sessions not open to the public.

Meanwhile, Canadian national teams and Raptors super fan Nav Bhatia will be ­sponsoring a youth basketball camp for kids 8 to 14 on Saturday at the Memorial Centre. ­Participants will be able to meet the ­Canadian national team players. ­Information and registration

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