In two years of pro basketball in Europe, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe rarely took a seat as a star import.
All those minutes made her a better player, so good she has made Team Canada’s women’s basketball team for the Pan American Games, July 16-20, in Toronto.
The Kalamalka Lakers’ grad was announced by Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canada Basketball as one of 12 players who will head to Edmonton Tuesday for their final preparation camp.
Raincock-Ekunwe showed well at the late April trials at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
“I felt pretty good at the tryout camp,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking the first couple of days. I kind of sat back and watched the amazing senior players do their thing. After that, I felt more comfortable and pulled through.”
A 6-foot-2, 165-pound power forward, Raincock-Ekunwe played for Team Canada head coach Lisa Thomaidis with the national development team a few years ago. Salmon Arm’s Bev Smith, bench boss with the Oregon Ducks, is an assistant.
Raincock-Ekunwe, who helps her mom, Denny, run some farms in Oliver whenever home, figures veteran Kim Gaucher, 30, will provide leadership in the Pan Am Games.
Gaucher, a Mission product playing pro in France, is one of seven players from this squad who represented Canada at the London 2012 Olympics.
“Kim is vocal,” said Raincock-Ekunwe. “She always knows where to be on the floor and what do to do. She works closely with the head coach.”
Raincock-Ekunwe will play for TSV 1880 Wasserburg (Germany) this fall after starring for BG Donau-Ries Angels in Nordlingen, Germany. She was with Esperance Sportive Pully of Lausanne, Switzerland two years ago.
She averaged 19.5 points and 12.6 rebounds with Donau-Reis, being named the Import, Centre and Defensive Player of the Year. She also attended her first German Beerfest.
In Switzerland, she was chosen the Top Defensive and Centre while making the All-Import and first all-star teams after averaging 20 points and almost 13 rebounds a game.
Raincock-Ekunwe says she’s too small for the WNBA, but she has toughened up knocking heads in Euro ball.
“I’m definitely more physical now, mainly because the professionals guard one another so it’s like playing against NCAA players who are big and strong.”
The soon-to-be 24-year-old who was the tournament MVP with the B.C. senior AA girls champion Lakers under Reni Dolcetti, enjoyed getting pushed by her German coach.
“He coached the national team and he held nine practices a week. He was very intense and very motivated to improve his players which was really good for me, exhausting but definitely worth it.”
With Wasserburg, Raincock-Ekunwe will see bonus action in the Euro Cup, much like the Champions League tournament in Euro soccer. She will visit countries like France and Belgium.
Blessed with roadrunner speed, Raincock-Ekunwe ended a four-year career at SFU as an NCAA II All-American after finishing the season first in field goal percentage (65.3), fourth in rebounding (12.4 per game) and third in double-doubles (22).
The Canadian women’s team is coming off a fifth-place finish at the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Turkey – their best finish in almost 30 years.
“To represent your country, especially on home soil, is an honour and privilege. In my time with the team we’ve never had the depth and level of talent we do here this year.,” said Thomaidis.
“We are very excited to showcase it at Pan Am Games and FIBA Americas to vie for the most coveted prize – a berth to the Rio Olympic Games.”
Up-and-coming talents Shay Colley, Saicha Grant-Allen and Jamie Weisner will be Team Canada alternates and will train with the team in Edmonton. The team is staying at the downtown Chateau Lacombe.
Raincock-Ekunwe eventually plans a return to SFU to complete her health science studies. She is seven courses short due to basketball commitments over the years. She is interested in nursing.