Kelowna’s Taya Hanson has an opportunity to take on the world.
The Grade 9 Dr. Knox Middle School student was among 12 players officially announced today in Toronto as members of the Canadian U16 cadette basketball team that will compete next week at the FIBA Americas championship in Puebla, Mexico. A top-three finish there would qualify Canada for the world U17 championship tournament in 2016.
Hanson, who turned 15 on Sunday, was identified as a candidate for the team while playing for Team BC at the Basketball Canada national U15 championships last summer. She was invited to a national age-group assessment camp in Toronto in December.
Twenty-four of the 30 players were invited back to the U16 trials in March, while 17 of those, including Hanson, received the invitation to try out at a two-week camp earlier this month for the 12 spots on the national team.
Co-head coach, Carly Clarke of Ryerson University in Toronto, said Hanson, a product of the Kelowna Minor Basketball Association, stood out most because of her fitness.
“Taya worked incredibly hard to come into camps fit and it really showed in her fitness testing results,’ said Clark, a Halifax native. “We put the girls through an intensive two-week program and Taya’s fitness and defence were a big part of her success.”
Clarke added that Hanson, a guard who played with the Kelowna Secondary School junior team last school season, will be relied upon to be one of the key ballhandlers on the national team.
“We’re looking to her to be a floor general out there, and that’s one of the areas where we’ve seen the biggest improvement in her game since we first saw her in December,” noted Clarke. “Her shooting has also come along nicely. She’s much more consistent, especially from three-point range.”
Clarke added that a focus for Hanson will be on making good decisions under pressure.
“She’ll be going to the rim up against a lot of 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4 players, so she needs to be balanced and ready to make quick decisions.”
Clark said that while Hanson will likely not start most games, she and the rest of the team will get a good share of playing time.
“Taya’s fitness will go a long way in building up her minutes,” said the coach. “In an scrimmage on Wednesday, she came off the bench early and performed very well.”
The U16 team will leave for Mexico on Saturday and will play exhibition games against the United States and Brazil before meeting Cuba (June 24), Venezuela (June 25) and Brazil (June 26) in the preliminary round.
The semifinals are set for June 27 and the championship and bronze-medal games for June 28.
“We are excited to observe these young girls’ growth during this competition and to see how what they’ve learned is integrated into their training after this experience of competing against the best of their age in our Americas zone,” said Denise Dignard, director of women’s high performance for Basketball Canada.
Canada, ranked fourth in the world in FIBA women’s age-group rankings, qualified for the U17 world championship tournament in 2014 and finished sixth. The team won a bronze medal in 2012.