NEW YORK — Natalie Achonwa may be just 23 years old, but she’s already a veteran of Canada’s Women’s National Team. The Indiana Fever forward has played 76 games and participated in 20 FIBA events with Team Canada since joining the national program in 2008. She was a part of the 2012 Olympic team that fell in the quarterfinals to the United States, and helped the Canadians to two golds in 2015, as they won both the PanAm Games and FIBA Americas Championship.
In a few days, she’ll need to draw on that experience down in Rio as she looks to help Canada — currently ranked ninth in the world in the FIBA rankings — on its quest to capture the country’s first-ever Olympic medal in women’s basketball.
“It’s going to be different going into this Olympics,” Achonwa told WNBA.com after Canada’s exhibition game win over France at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. “We have a different mindset. It’s a different team. We have a lot of people that were at the 2012 Olympics, but there are some new players. Luckily we have the 2012 Olympics to know what to expect and we can eliminate some of the distractions.”
Despite being just 19 years old during the London Games, Achonwa was a solid contributor, averaging 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game as part of the first Canadian Women’s National Team to qualify for the Olympics since 2000.
Like her fellow countrywomen, Achonwa is eager about the opportunity to head down to Brazil to once again have the chance to represent her country on the international stage. “I know a lot of us are really excited and love the opportunity to wear Canada on our chest and represent our country,” she said Sunday.
While last time around, Achonwa was in the midst of her collegiate career at Notre Dame, this trip to the Olympics comes during her second WNBA season with the Indiana Fever. And she knows there are things she can take away from this experience that will help her during the stretch run with the Fever.
“I’ve been on this team since 2009, but it’s always an opportunity to learn,” Achonwa said. “There’s always someone that’s better than you, always someone that’s been through more than you. So I’m just taking every advantage to soak up playing against the U.S., playing against Australia, playing against the best of the world and trying to take what I can.”
— Natalie Achonwa (@NatAchon) August 2, 2016
Two-thirds of the way through the season, Achonwa and the Fever sit in fifth place at 12-12, in solid position to make the playoffs, and perhaps, a repeat run to the WNBA Finals.
But for these few weeks in Rio, Achonwa’s focus will be on representing Canada, especially during the national anthem, which she said is her favorite part of getting to suit up for her country.
“No matter what, when we put that jersey on, we’re proud,” Achonwa said. “It’s an opportunity to represent more than just yourself, more than just your family — you’re representing an entire country. I take that with the utmost honor and pride.”