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Jordin Canada’s full-circle moment with Sparks, Vanessa Nygaard

(Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — For Jordin Canada, the celebrations were endless on Wednesday night. The point guard sank a key free throw with 16.8 seconds remaining and dished out a team-high six assists to help the Los Angeles Sparks to a 99-94 win over the Phoenix Mercury. As Canada eclipsed 500 assists for her WNBA career, the Sparks snapped a five-game skid with the victory.

She also celebrated a reunion of sorts with Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard. Nygaard, Canada’s former high school coach at the Windward School in the Los Angeles area, was named Phoenix’s head coach this offseason, making Wednesday the first time the pair met in the WNBA as player and opposing head coach. Fittingly, the reunion happened with Canada in a Sparks jersey, months after she signed with her hometown team in free agency.

“I love Va,” Canada said. “She has definitely helped me in my player development, especially in high school. She really helped me think the game a lot and not just base it off my athleticism … I can always count on her if I need to talk basketball or anything life. She’s been a great asset to my village and getting me to where I am today.”

At Windward, Canada and Nygaard won a state championship and three CIF Southern Section titles together, with Nygaard as associate head coach for Canada’s first two seasons before becoming head coach.

Nygaard’s first impression of the point guard was “how fantastically athletic she was.”

“I remember, as a freshman, seeing her run,” Nygaard said. “She didn’t look like a regular high school kid. Her speed and athleticism, and her quiet demeanor off of that. Her game is so big and so loud, and then she as a person is so humble and kind.”

The vision of Canada suiting up for a WNBA team started to materialize during her junior year of high school.

“Vanessa told me I was good enough to play in the league,” Canada said, “and that if I just worked hard and continued to practice and kept doing what I was doing, I would make it there. And I believed that. From that point on, my main focus was how I could get better to be ready for the league.”

The dream itself started years earlier, in the same arena where Canada played with the Sparks on Wednesday night. Canada and future high school teammates Courtney Jaco and Juice Powell would go to watch the Sparks as kids and picture themselves taking the court someday. Playing for two of the best club teams in California — Canada for the GBL Lady Rebels and Jaco and Powell for the Monterey Park Heat — pitted them against each other.

“We were rivals,” Powell said. “We weren’t friends.”

Still, they bonded over their love of basketball and a shared goal.

“All kids growing up in the inner-city in L.A. have a dream,” Powell said. “We all watch women’s basketball, and we all have this plan. We all were hoopers, and the plan was to go to USC, to go to the WNBA, to play for the Sparks, period. … This is the dream that’s keeping you going day after day, and Jordin did it.”

Jaco said that Canada always remained humble, even when younger kids started to idolize her and she became “the talk of L.A. in terms of girls basketball.”

“Not a lot has changed,” Jaco said. “She’s probably stepped out of her shell just a little bit. For the most part, she’s still the same reserved, collected person.”

In her early basketball days, Canada was used to being faster and more athletic than the competition. When she got to Windward, Nygaard encouraged her to take more of a mental approach to the game. The coach ran the Wildcats “like a college team,” Jaco said, with the players lifting weights, doing skill work and bonding exercises and competing in grueling practices.

“Vanessa challenged Jordin to be great every single day, which is a hard thing to do at such a young age,” Jaco said. “Sometimes you don’t feel like going to practice, that kind of stuff. She continually challenged her to be the best in all areas: the best point guard, the best leader.”

Off the court, Jaco remembered Canada as “just a goofy, regular high schooler” and “a really great friend to me.”

After Windward, Canada starred at UCLA while Jaco went on to play for crosstown rival USC, where she remains the Trojans’ all-time leader in 3-point percentage and second all-time in 3-pointers made with 217. The Trojans had plenty of experience with trying to defend Canada during her four years in the Pac-12.

“On offense, she started learning how to pick defenses apart,” said Jaco, now the director of player development for the USC women’s basketball team and video coordinator for the Connecticut Sun. “It was very hard to guard her. At USC, a big part of our scouting report was figuring out how we could get the ball out of her hands. That was really difficult. She’s really quick with the ball and with her dribble and can get out of a trap easily.”

Canada also became a “defensive pest” at UCLA, as Jaco described her. She was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year her junior and senior seasons.

Canada finished her UCLA career first all-time in assists and second in points, among many other accolades. The Storm drafted her fifth overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft, and in four seasons in Seattle, Canada won two championships while playing alongside legendary point guard Sue Bird.

“I learned how to be a pro in this league, what it takes to be a good point guard in this league,” Canada said. “She’s one of the best to ever do it at her position and in the game, period. Just seeing her day-in and day-out, how she approached the game, how she approached practice, how she prepared taught me so much.”

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Canada won two WNBA championships in four seasons with the Seattle Storm. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

With the Storm, Canada played a backup role for the first time in her career. Other than the 2019 season, when she started 29 of 30 games, Canada was often one of the first players off the Seattle bench.

“As a friend, it was interesting to see that transition for her,” Jaco said. “She’s always been a team player at all levels, but she had to sacrifice a lot and had never been in that position before. It took a while for her to embrace that, but over time, you could see more confidence. She’d come in and change the pace of the game.”

Canada took advantage of the opportunity to play for one of the WNBA’s best teams, enhancing her basketball IQ and relying on her defense – she earned All-Defensive First Team honors in 2019.

So, when Canada hit the free-agent market this past offseason for the first time, other teams were interested. Within just a couple of days of Seattle rescinding her qualifying offer, Canada was in talks to sign a one-year deal with the Sparks.

She signed with L.A. on Feb. 8, bringing her career full circle.

Starting in each of the Sparks’ first eight games, Canada is averaging career-highs in points (11.8) and field-goal percentage (44.2). She estimates that she had 50-plus friends and family members attend the Sparks’ May 18 home opener against the Minnesota Lynx.

“I remember being on this floor when I was younger, playing at halftime or before the game, and just watching the games and just imagining myself out there,” she said. “The fact that I’m back in my home city … I’m super blessed and humbled. I tried not to be too high that day, because I knew it was a big moment for me and also for my family and friends.”

“For a minute there, people didn’t know if the Sparks was a part of the plan,” Powell said. “But we knew, and it was just a matter of the call. We were always at Staples Center. It’s a full-circle moment in every sense. She did it, man. Built, not born, is a part of her. Jordin was definitely born with natural ability and talent like a lot of people, but she built this journey for herself.”

All three players know their basketball journeys might not have flourished as much as they did without Nygaard. None of them were surprised when she was named Mercury head coach this past offseason after playing five seasons in the WNBA and coaching since 2003, including two years as an assistant coach in the WNBA.

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Nygaard is in her first season as a WNBA head coach. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

“I had seen Jordin after the (2021 WNBA) season,” Nygaard said. “She said, ‘When are you going to be a head coach?’ I said, ‘Give me three or four years,’ and it ended up being three months. She’s always been really supportive. She comes back to talk to the (Windward) team a lot. I have a great connection with her. She’s such a great icon for basketball in Los Angeles.”

The milestones of the past few months culminated in one special moment in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, 11 years after Canada and Nygaard first joined forces at Windward.

“It’s crazy,” Nygaard said an hour and a half before tipoff. “I don’t think any of us would have guessed that, when we were in the gym running layup drills and all the time we spent together, that we’re both here and doing our thing. I’m so proud of her and so happy for her to be back in L.A. with her parents, family, her brother and everybody here to celebrate her.”

Their history together also meant that Nygaard had a personal scouting report on Canada ahead of the game, in which her former star scored seven points to go along with the six assists in 21 minutes of play.

“Keep her in front,” Nygaard said of Canada. “Don’t let her get going in transition. Be really physical with her. And you can talk trash and touch her headband. She doesn’t like it when you touch her headband.”

After all, as Nygaard said earlier, “I’m forever her coach.”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.

Athing Mu Falls at Trials, Will Not Defend 800-Meter Olympic Title

Athing Mu competes in the women's 800 meter final on Day Four of the 2024 US Olympic Team Track & Field Trials
Mu won the 800-meter final at the Tokyo Olympics, crossing the line in 1:55.21 to break the American record. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Reigning Olympic Track & Field champion Athing Mu will not have the opportunity to defend her 800-meter title in Paris after falling during the event's US Track & Field Trials final on Monday. 

About 200 meters into the race, Mu uncharacteristically got tangled up in the middle of the track and lost her footing. Coming to her defense, her coach Bobby Kersee said that she had been spiked, suffered track burns, and hurt her ankle. The 22-year-old filed an appeal that saw USA Track and Field officials sorting through replays, but it was later denied. 

As a result, Mu did not qualify to run the 800-meter at the 2024 Summer Games, as the US has a standing rule that only the top three Trials finishers make the official Olympic-bound roster. 

At her first-ever Olympics in 2021, Mu took home the gold at the 800-meter final, crossing the line in 1:55.21 to break the American record.

"I’ve coached it, I’ve preached it, I’ve watched it," Kersee told The Associated Press after Mu's appeal was rejected. "And here’s another indication that regardless of how good we are, we can leave some better athletes home than other countries have. It’s part of our American way."

Mu finished more than 22 seconds behind eventual winner Nia Akins, but could still make the Olympic team as part of the US relay pool. Mu was a key part of the Team USA's 4x400-meter gold medal win three years ago in Tokyo.

Dearica Hamby Tapped to Replace Cameron Brink on 3×3 Olympic Team

Dearica Hamby playing for Team USA in 2023
Dearica Hamby is no stranger to Team USA's 3×3 lineup. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Dearica Hamby has been named to USA Basketball's official 3×3 Olympic roster, replacing an injured Cameron Brink.

The Los Angeles Sparks forward has extensive experience with the 3×3 team, including taking home both a gold medal and MVP honors at the 2023 FIBA AmeriCup

Brink originally made the roster in early June, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury during Los Angeles’s June 18th loss to Connecticut. 

"It is an honor to announce Dearica Hamby's addition to the USA 3×3 women's national team and we look forward to getting to work as a squad very soon," USA Basketball 3×3 national team director Jay Demings said in a statement. "USA Basketball continues to keep Cameron Brink in our thoughts as she focuses on her recovery."

Hamby will join 2023 FIBA 3×3 World Cup champions Hailey Van Lith (TCU), CIerra Burdick, and Rhyne Howard (Atlanta Dream) in Paris.

San Diego Wave Parts Ways With Head Coach Casey Stoney

ex-wave fc head coach casey stoney in 2023
Casey Stoney joined Wave FC in 2022 from the WSL's Manchester United. (Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)

San Diego Wave FC announced on Monday that the organization has parted ways with head coach Casey Stoney. 

The announcement comes amid a seven-game winless streak for the Wave. Stoney joined San Diego from WSL side Manchester United a few months before their inaugural season, winning the 2022 NWSL Coach of the Year Award that same year. She went on to lead the expansion team to two trophies in three years. 

Just this past January, the club agreed to a multi-year contract extension that kept Stoney with the club through 2027, with a mutual option for 2028. 

Despite their prior success, San Diego currently sits ninth in the NWSL standings, one point out of playoff contention. Their last win came on May 8th, having most recently played to a scoreless draw against Houston over the weekend to cap off a three-game road trip. 

"We are immensely grateful to Casey for her commitment to our club and the positive impact she has had both on and off the pitch,” Wave president and former USWNT manager Jill Ellis said in an official team statement. "Over the past seasons, Casey has guided us to significant milestones, and her contributions have been instrumental in laying a strong foundation on which to build.

"The decision to part ways was very hard and not made in haste, but given the ambition of this club, and where we are in our season, we felt a change was necessary at this time."

The staffing change comes a little less than two weeks after the Wave brought on former Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton. Ashton resigned from her position with Kansas City in May of this year.

On Tuesday, Ellis commented that Stoney is "self aware" and called her a "complete professional."

"I don’t think you have to have a conversation when it comes to know where they are, she knew,” she said. “I think Casey knew results matter. Casey’s ambitious. And was she happy with where we were? Of course not.

"I think a coach also understands that sometimes this is the nature of the beast of coaching. It’s tough and hard at times."

Kansas City, Orlando Raise the NWSL Bar With Weekend Wins

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda in action during a NWSL match against Seattle Reign
Banda registered a brace on Sunday, bringing her NWSL total to 10 goals in just 10 games. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Pride star Barbra Banda continued on her historic NWSL trajectory this weekend, scoring twice in Orlando’s 6-0 win over Utah on Friday. 

She’s the first NWSL player to register 10 goals in their first 10 league appearances. It was also her fourth brace this season, and marked her first goals in two games after her first multi-game scoring drought.

"For me when I have an opportunity and a chance, I have to take it wisely," Banda said in her postgame remarks. "When I get a chance, I have to put the ball in the back of the net. If any game I didn’t score, I just have to go to my drawing board and work hard so that in the next game so I can find a goal."

Meanwhile, Kansas City also kept up their winning ways, beating Portland 4-1 behind a brace from midfielder Lo'eau Labonta on Sunday.

Later that day, the Washington Spirit, who sit just a point behind KC in third place, topped fourth-place Gotham FC in a decisive 2-0 victory.

And after drawing with Seattle, eighth-place Louisville has 16 points on the season — representing a growing gap between the league’s top and bottom teams. Bringing up the bottom of the ladder, both Seattle and Utah have yet to surpass 10 points this year.

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