Star eyes Olympic dream

By Steve Green
The London Free Press
June 13, 2012

Seven years ago, Miranda Ayim was leading her Saunders senior girls’ basketball team to a conference championship. In less than three weeks, she hopes to lead the Canadian women’s team into the 2012 Olympics.

“It’s almost something you can’t put into words,” the 24-year-old said Wednesday from Lyon, France, where Canada will be playing exhibition games starting Thursday against Croatia, the Czech Republic and France in preparation for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Ankara, Turkey.

“This is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime kinds of things. It’s definitely an opportunity that gets to be experienced by a very small number of athletes and when you think about how many people are trying to get to the Olympics, it gets to be a bit overwhelming.”

But four years at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., where she graduated as the Waves’ career leader in blocked shots with 182 and was named the top NCAA Division I-AA women’s basketball scholar-athlete in 2010, six years with the national program, more than 50 international appearances and two years of pro basketball have prepared her for the challenge.

“When I was in college, most of my focus was on getting to know the game better, developing my knowledge of the game, because 85% of it is mental,” said Ayim, a 6-foot-3 forward. “So that’s where I’ve grown a lot as a player. But I’ve also had to work on my skills so that I’m not solely a post player.”

In Ankara, Canada will play in a round-robin group with France and Mali. The top two from each of the four three-team pools advance to the quarterfinals, with the quarterfinal winners clinching a berth in London. The quarterfinal losers will then play down to determine the fifth and final qualifier from this tournament.

“I think we have a great chance,” Ayim said. “We’ve been together for a while now and the core group has been working together for the last few years. We feel we’re all really focused on the job at hand and peaking at the right time.

“France has always been a strong team, but you can never go into a thing like this thinking one team is strong and another one is weak. We need to go in with a blank slate and focus on what needs to be done so that we can impose our game on the opposition.

“It really is a matter of taking it day by day. Our theme this summer has been, ‘Win the day’ — take care of what we need to do to be successful on the day, whether it’s in a practice or a game. It’s nice to know I’m still young enough that I might have another chance down the road (for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and perhaps 2020), but we definitely want to get there this year.”

Ayim has played professionally in Turkey the last two years, first with Alanya, then Istanbul University (she also played three games for the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock last year).

She’s a free agent right now, but said her experience playing in Turkey will be a big help for the qualifier.

“I’m pretty comfortable with Turkey, I’m comfortable with the culture there and hopefully I can be a liaison for the rest of the team,” she said.

One of the four alternates named to the team is Sarnia Northern grad Kendel Ross, and having someone from fairly close to home with her is a nice bonus, Ayim said.

“We played against each other in so many tournaments in high school. And we’ve become really good friends,” Ayim said. “But we’re all close on this team.”

Ayim won’t get home before the qualifier, but she will return to London for a while in July, hopefully before the team heads off to the Games.

“In short, no,” she said with a laugh when asked if she could have predicted any of this that night on the Beal court in 2005 when the Sabres won that TVRA Central AAAA title. “I definitely could not have foreseen any of this. It’s been beyond my wildest dreams.

“As the years have gone by, more and more opportunities have opened up for me and they’ve all led me to a good place.”

And England in August is as good a place as any right now.

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