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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.

USA Women’s Basketball Releases Olympic Roster, Explains Clark’s Omission

USA Women's Basketball's Diana Taurasi #12, Brittney Griner #15 and Sabrina Ionescu #6 at April's National Team Training Camp
All the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

USA Women's Basketball announced its official Olympic roster on Tuesday, with officials noting that Caitlin Clark’s lack of national team experience played a key role in her omission.

Selection committee chair Jen Rizzotti said that the committee evaluated players according to a set of on-court criteria they were given.

"When you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes," she told reporters on Tuesday. "Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for [coach Cheryl Reeve] and then sometimes a vote."

Three first-time Olympians made the squad: Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu, and Kahleah Copper. Additionally, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum will make the switch to the national 5-on-5 team after winning gold in the inaugural 3×3 competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Age, Rizzotti said, was "never brought up" in player selection discussions. It’s the first time in Olympic history that a USA Women’s Basketball 5-on-5 team will travel to the Games without a single player under 26 years old.

Rizzotti commented that all the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience, something that Clark does not have.

"She's certainly going to continue to get better and better," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley added. "Really hope that she's a big part of our future going forward."

Rizzotti said it would have been "irresponsible" to base roster decisions on anything outside of a basketball context. Marketing and popularity were not on the selection committee’s list of criteria. 

"It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team," Rizzotti said. "Because it wasn't the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the US. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl."

Clark expressed that she'll be using what some consider a snub as fuel for a run at the 2028 Olympic team. 

"I think it just gives you something to work for," Clark told media after practice Sunday. "It's a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it's just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" on Expert Adjacent

Arsenal Women Confirm US Tour, Preseason Friendlies

Arsenal's Lotte Wubben-Moy battles with Mayra Ramirez of Chelsea at the 2023/24 FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup Final
The last time Chelsea and Arsenal faced off, the Gunners took home the FA Women's League Cup. (Copa/Getty Images)

Arsenal announced on Monday that it will join Chelsea for a series of preseason friendlies in the US in August. 

Arsenal will be based in Washington, DC from August 15th through August 26th. The Gunners are scheduled to play the Washington Spirit on August 18th, followed by a match with fellow WSL team Chelsea on August 25th. It’s the first time that the two London clubs will meet each other on this side of the Atlantic. 

Chelsea had previously announced their game against Gotham FC, confirming reports from ESPN that surfaced last month.

"We always want to create the best conditions for our teams to prepare and perform at their best in pre-season," said Arsenal sporting director Edu Gaspar in a statement. "This gives our players an opportunity to play and train in a new environment, in front of our supporters around the world."

Both Arsenal and Chelsea tout rosters full of international talent — formidable opponents for two equally stacked NWSL teams gearing up for postseason action. Arsenal is home to accomplished England nationals Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, and backheel goal-scorer Alessia Russo alongside Ireland captain Katie McCabe and USWNT defender Emily Fox.

The games are set to be streamed live for free on DAZN.

Arsenal's US tour builds off of a trip to Melbourne, Australia at the tail end of the 2023/24 season, where they beat A-League All Stars women 1-0 in front of 42,120 fans.

US Women Defeat NC Courage to Claim $1 Million TST Prize

TST team US Women celebrate a semifinal win
USWNT legend Heather O’Reilly led the 7-on-7 side to victory at Monday's TST championship. (The Soccer Tournament)

The US Women 7-on-7 team won the first-ever edition of The Soccer Tournament’s women’s bracket, taking home the $1 million prize.

The TST concluded on Monday, with Ali Krieger and Heather O’Reilly leading the US Women past the North Carolina Courage’s 7-on-7 team to a 6-3 victory.

"I mean, at that moment, you're not thinking right? Like, I just saw the ball come to me and i was able to put it in the back of the net," said game-winning goal-scorer Talia DellaPeruta. "And it was just... everything kind of stopped for a second. When it went in, I just could not believe it. Like, that was the winning goal, everything that we had worked for this whole weekend.

"I'm just so grateful that I can contribute in that way and to be surrounded by such legends on the field. I mean, to be able to get us over that line, it's the best feeling I've ever felt. This is the best day ever."

Each team member will take home $40,000, with the winnings split equally amongst the 25-person group. First launched in 2023, TST is now the world’s highest-stakes women’s soccer tournament, offering equal $1 million prizes for both the men’s and women’s champions.

"Every single person, staff, players — we deserve it. One million dollars!" O'Reilly said in a team huddle after the victory.

USA Basketball Reportedly Finalizes 2024 Olympic Roster

Jewell Loyd #4 of the United States and Breanna Stewart #10 of the United States celebrate the teams victory during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Japan V USA basketball final
This will be the first year since 1976 that USA Women's Basketball travels to the Summer Games without a single player under 26 years old. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The women’s basketball roster for the Paris Olympics has reportedly been decided, with star WNBA rookie Caitlin Clark left off the 12-player roster.

Three first-time Olympians are slated to join the team: the Sun's Alyssa Thomas, the Mercury's Kahleah Copper, and the Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu. Meanwhile Clark, Brionna Jones, and Aliyah Boston are reportedly on the short-list for an injury replacement should any of the rostered players not make it to Paris, according to The Athletic.

Chelsea Gray and Brittney Griner, who were both named to the team, are currently in the process of returning from injury.

"I'm excited for the girls that are on the team," Clark told reporters Sunday. "I know it's the most competitive team in the world and I know it could have gone either way — me being on the team or me not being on the team. I'm going to be rooting them on to win gold. I was a kid that grew up watching the Olympics, so it will be fun to watch them.

"Honestly, no disappointment. It just gives me something to work for — it's a dream... Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

The reported Olympic lineup leans heavily on its veterans, with Diana Taurasi preparing for her sixth Olympic Games — a new all-time international basketball record. In fact, not a single player under the age of 26 was listed, a noteworthy departure from previous years.

In every Olympic roster dating back to 1976, at least two players under the age of 25 made it onto the US women's basketball team. Nancy Lieberman, the youngest player to ever compete for the US Olympic basketball team, was just 18 when she joined the 1976 Summer Games. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, WNBA stars Napheesa Collier and A’ja Wilson were both rostered at 24 years old.

Clark said USA Basketball officials called to tell her the news before it reached the press, the same approach they used for all other Olympic hopefuls. But according to Fever head coach Christie Sides, what some might see as a snub could also act as the catalyst for improved performance in the future.

"The thing she said was, 'Hey coach, they woke a monster,' which I thought was awesome," Sides said.

Clark also expressed excitement about the potential to get some much-needed rest during the Olympic break.

"Absolutely, it's going to be really nice," Clark said. "I've loved competing every single second. But it's going to be a great month for my body to get rest, get healthy and just get a little time away from basketball and the craziness of everything that's been going on. And just find some peace and quiet for myself.

"But then additionally, it's a great opportunity for us to work and get better. A great opportunity for myself to get in the weight room. To work on the court, at things that I want to get better at that I maybe didn't have time [to] going from college to the pro season."

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