How France became a pipeline for Canadian talent in women’s basketball

It all started with Lizanne Murphy.

The Montrealer was thinking about her future in basketball following the London 2012 Olympics. In previous years, she had rebounded in the professional leagues in Eastern Europe and suffered a serious knee injury that had not not managed properly, possibly due to language barriers.

On the brink of retirement, Murphy, fluent in English and French, was urged by her agent to consider playing in France.

She would be the only Canadian in the league and had played 12 French league games the previous season.

“I signed a contract to play in Aix-en-Provence, which is like the beach on the Mediterranean Sea. It was amazing… And then I just said to all my teammates, like, “Guys, you have to come here. “It’s amazing,” Murphy said.

For Murphy, the location of the beach was a big draw – if your basketball career is to end away from the rest of your national team, it might as well be sunny.

But she wasn’t alone for long. Murphy’s team needed a point guard, so they called Shona Thorburn from Hamilton, Ont. Who quickly joined the coastal team.

The two quickly understood why the French league now serves as a Canadian pipeline: intense competition, intelligent coaching and high IQ players, guaranteed contracts and French language and culture.

Team Canada veteran Kim Gaucher joined Murphy and Thorburn in France soon after, and Gaucher credited Murphy with the pioneering role for Canadians at home.

“We worked very hard because Canadians work very hard. So all of a sudden the Canadian players got this amazing reputation and every time they signed more Canadians. The following year there were like two other Canadians and then they played really well, ”said Murphy. .

“So it’s like this untapped talent in France who were great teammates, great people and really the best players in the league. ”

Today, 14 Canadians play in three leagues in France, including five in the top Women’s Basketball League.

Team-oriented basketball

The steady increase over the past decade isn’t just a sign that Canadians want to play together. In France, only two European non-European players and two non-French Europeans are authorized per team.

Bridget Carleton, a playoff starter for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, recently started her first season in France. She said it was her best option after choosing not to return to Australia for her second overseas campaign.

“I was mainly drawn to France simply because of the history of the Canadians in this league, in the country. And obviously speaking with my national team teammates Kim, Murph, Shona, Nayo [Raincock-Ekunwe]. … They’ve been here for so long, they’ve continued their careers here, they’ve played here for several years, so that shows how much they appreciate and appreciate him here, ”Carleton said.

The 24-year-old is now leaving for Landerneau Bretagne, where she is gaining more responsibility on the pitch than she had as a fifth option, at best, for the Lynx.

Carleton, right, spent last season playing for Townsville Fire of Australia’s WNBL. (Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images)

Along with the talent collection in France comes more legitimate basketball than you might see in other European leagues. Coaches instill structured systems on the pitch that mimic international play. In the past, this resembled Canada’s disciplined style of play; now Canada prefers run-and-gun transition basketball.

Yet both systems require quick and intelligent decision making on the part of gamers.

“The Canadians are really talented offensive players, really talented individual players, but they’re also great teammates. And we don’t always see that with everyone and I think that’s why the French League, French citizens love Canadian players, ”said Murphy.

Canadians, like Carleton, are unlikely to dominate the ball and consistently lead their team in shooting attempts.

Guaranteed contracts

But Gaucher said the style of play is sometimes the only way to survive outside of France in Europe.

“There are countries where if you’re an importer, if you’re American, if you don’t score 30 points a night – and it can be over 35 shots – they don’t really care. And then you ‘gonna be cut, while [in France] there is a lot of movement, there is a lot of projection. They want complete players. ”

It’s easier to prioritize the team over the individual when your contract is legitimately guaranteed. While ‘guarantee’ language is the norm across Europe, it is common for players to be paid on time or not at all, or cut off at any time outside of France.

Gaucher, who plays for the Mondeville B League, says she was still paid after the league was shut down due to the March pandemic.

Gaucher competes in a match against France during the 2016 Olympic Games. (Phil Walter / Getty Images)

In contrast, their Russian club told compatriots Ruth Hamblin, Miah-Marie Langlois and Jamie Scott in March that they would break their contracts if they returned to Canada – even after the Prime Minister ordered a return.

Murphy also spent time in Argentina, Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia before France.

“In North America, a contract really matters. But in Eastern Europe your money is always late. Sometimes you don’t get paid. It is not always guaranteed. And this has happened to me often. But in France, being a professional athlete is treated like a career, you have the same rights and the same respect in terms of government protection as a teacher. [or] a lawyer, ”she said.

Canadian camaraderie

Beyond basketball and money, the Canadian camaraderie has quickly established itself and is growing with every additional national team player arriving.

Carleton got her first taste when she faced Canadians Michelle Plouffe and Raincock-Ekunwe, who play for Lyon, in November.

Murphy, now retired, was spending the night with his compatriots after traveling for a game before catching the train home the next day. There was even talk of holding a Canadian training camp in France last month before the pandemic scuttles potential plans.

Murphy said she was proud to have played her role in promoting Canadian talent and the growth of football. Without a professional home league, France has become the next best thing.

And when the European season usually demands a lot of lonely nights in foreign countries, it’s good to know that there is a support system nearby.

“It’s not the same despair and the same overwhelmed fatigue [as it is outside of France]. You have a good balance there and you feel right at home. … This family bond, I think, is almost a competitive advantage. ”

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