WASSERBURG (2016 Olympic Games) – There can hardly have been many more exhilarating and glorious first years wearing a senior national team vest than the one just experienced by Canada’s Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe.
For the forward has put herself firmly on the international radar with a golden double after playing her part in taking Canada to the top of not just one – but two podiums during 2015.
"I still reflect almost daily on the FIBA Americas tournament and qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics on home soil in front of family, friends and dedicated fans - it was was one of my most special basketball milestones," she reflected from her new base in Wasserburg, Germany.
"The Pan-American Games triumph was actually my first major international tournament with the side and it was amazing to join this highly skilled team and experience such success - and all in the city where I was born and raised!
"I have also had the opportunity to learn from the best coaches and players in Canada and made some friendships that I believe will endure for a long time," added Raincock-Ekunwe who won an army of admirers - including Steve Nash.
Arriving on the biggest stage arguably out of leftfield, the 24-year-old is proving to be a great addition for the Canadian women’s programme and is viewed as a glowing endorsement of their strategy.
She said, "I consciously chose to stay in Canada for my University playing years and I ended up having the best of both worlds, because I got to study in my own country and to play for the NCAA's only non-American school at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
"Although I did not come from the biggest NCAA programme, the coaching I received in Canada was invaluable.
"I think that basketball in Canada is on a very promising trajectory and we know that we can now compete against the best in the world."
Next on the agenda with the national team is of course a potential first Olympic footstep and Raincock-Ekunwe is determined to hang on to her peg in the locker room.
"Winning an automatic berth to the Rio Summer Olympics is a real advantage for the Canadian women's team and I definitely think about the prospect of reporting to spring 2016 camp after the current European season ends," she mused.
"Like many times in life, the biggest challenges often have the best pay-offs.
"With help from various coaches, I am clear on what I need to work on between now and next year.
"Being very determined in my own quiet way, if given the opportunity, I will compete for a coveted spot.
"Athletics are however more than the physical – it’s having the mental toughness and being able to stay focused on your desired future which are equally important.
"I think this is an evolutionary process - so for me, time will tell."
However, the most pressing matter is making a successful splash at club level and she has already looked impressive with Wasserburg – putting up terrific numbers last week on her EuroCup Women debut, a competition scattered with her Canada team-mates.
"EuroCup Women is one more competitive notch up," stated Raincock-Ekunwe.
"I am really excited to compete against Katherine Plouffe who plays in France with Nantes, who are a very good EuroCup Women team.
"We know each other's moves after a very successful summer of training and playing together.
"I think with smart preparation our skilled Wasserburg players will give them a run for their money.
"After all, we won our first EuroCup regular season game and so I am feeling very good about this new league," she concluded as she looks to now finish a remarkable calendar year on a high.
– but the sailors praise the new boats
Photo Credit: Dario Belingheri/Bettini Photo
photo David Cannon/Getty images