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Basketball - 24. February 2012.

CAN - Gabriele gears up for another run at Summer Games

MISSION (Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women) - It's been more than 10 years since Teresa Gabriele took that famous walk that so many athletes dream of.

The point guard strolled into the Olympic stadium in Sydney in the summer of 2000 and smiled the whole time, reveling in an opportunity of a lifetime.

"Yes, I can definitely remember the feeling of walking into the Olympic stadium in Sydney," Gabriele says to FIBA.com.

"It is a feeling that nobody could ever forget, and when I think about it now I still get goose bumps.

"The pride of playing for your country is an amazing feeling, but the pride of playing for your country on the most monumental stage is unparalleled."

Every summer with Canada has meant a lot to Gabriele, though, and not just that headline-grabbing one in Australia.

"While the Olympics have been a significant highlight in my career," she says, "the overall experience, including the relationships I have formed, are what I will cherish for the rest of my life."
 
Now 33 and the captain of Team Canada, Gabriele will do her best to get her country back on the Olympic stage.

The London Games will be played at the end of July and early August, and Gabriele and her teammates will try to claim one of the five places still available for the event when they compete at the 12-team FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) for Women in Ankara (25 June to July 1).

Last week, Canada were drawn against France and Mali in Group D.

Should they finish among the top two, Canada would play in a Quarter-Final against Croatia, Korea or Mozambique and the winner of that game would clinch a spot in a London.

The losers of the four Quarter-Finals would battle it out for the fifth and last spot on offer for London.

"Both France and Mali are quality teams, along with every other team in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament," Gabriele says.

"We don't very often get the opportunity to play against the African nations, but we know that they will be strong and athletic.

"Over the past few years, we have played France numerous times and know their style of play quite well.

"Regardless of who we drew in our pool play, as a team we need to be playing at the top of our game to qualify for the Olympics."

Facing France
 
The Canadians have taken on France a lot in the past, including at the 2000 Games when Les Bleues won 70-58.

Gabriele played 12 minutes in that clash and had a couple of points.

EuroBasket 2009 gold medalists, France finished sixth at the 2010 World Championship and claimed bronze at last year's EuroBasket in Poland.

"France is a tough team to play because they have many strengths," Gabriele says.

"They have good guard play and post play, allowing them to be a threat from all positions.

"They have a strong domestic league that allows their players to grow and develop."

Respecting Mali

Mali were African champions in 2007 and played at the Beijing Games, and they competed at the World Championship.

Canada fully expect a hard game against them.

"We know that on any given day, any of the teams in this tournament can beat anyone," Gabriele says.

"Mali is a very good team, with great athleticism.

"Our focus has to be on us, how we are playing and performing as a team.

"If we control our own performance, things will fall into place and take care of themselves.

"We need to play our tough, aggressive defense.

"On the offensive end, we need to execute and take care of the basketball.

"If we do these things, we will be in good shape."
 
A long way from home

When it comes to international tournaments, some national sides have to travel a long way to take part.

The Canadians will have to cross the Atlantic and then venture across Europe to reach Ankara.

This is nothing new for Gabriele and her teammates.

"Yes, it is very rare for us to play in our own country, or anywhere even close to home due to geographic limitations," she says.

"We are extremely used to traveling and playing overseas.

"This travel is not an issue for our team.

"We will also be traveling to Europe some time before the tournament starts to get used to the time change and stress of travel on your body."

Getting better

Canada didn't reach the Quarter-Finals of the FIBA World Championship but under coach Allison McNeill, the team improved that year and did last summer as well at the FIBA Americas Championship in Colombia.

The team had their highly-rated Natalie Achonwa, a player with leading American college side Notre Dame, at the World Championship in the Czech Republic when they came in 12th, but they were missing her last year.

They still managed to capture a bronze medal and reach the OQT.

"Our team has definitely taken strides in the right direction," Gabriele says, "trying to become one of the top nations in the world.

"We have always had a much younger team, with significantly less international experience than most other countries.

"However, over the past five years we have gained valuable experience at the World Championship and in the FIBA Americas Championship.

"I think that having continuity in the coaching staff has helped our team consistently develop with the same systems, both offensively and defensively.

"As players, individually and as a team, we know what the expectations are from our coaches."
 
Keeping fit

Gabriele is not like most players at the highest level of the sport.

Instead of competing for a team this time of year in Europe or in the Americas, she is at home in British Columbia.

"Over the past several years, I have been training on my own in Canada," she says.

"I do my cardio, weight, and individual skill workouts all on my own.

"I have been battling some injuries for the past few years, so the most important aspect for me, is to be healthy when our team starts training together in the summer."

FIBA
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