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Canada’s Kia Nurse, Bridget Carleton find comfort in basketball at WNBA bubble

Late July in Florida can be hot.

But if the heat is the toughest adjustment WNBA players have to make IN their bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., things must be going pretty well.

Canadian WNBAers Kia Nurse, a New York Liberty guard, and Bridget Carleton, a Minnesota Lynx forward, both made a point of noting the high temperatures in their new home.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh I haven’t ridden a bike in years, this will be fun,” Nurse said. “And [then] I’m like, ‘It’s hot and I’m tired all the time and I don’t need this extra fitness.'”

Carleton said the heat affects her more in the gym.

“It’s very hot and sticky here, which I’m not mad at. It’s kind of nice to get some vitamin D in. But yeah, it’s very hot coming out of practice all sweaty and then you walk outside, you’re still sweating.”

Otherwise, Nurse, 24, and Carleton, 23, said their bubble experience has been pleasant.The WNBA season begins Saturday, with Nurse’s Liberty taking on the Seattle Storm. Carleton’s Lynx debut Sunday against the Connecticut Sun.

Both players are living with two teammates — Carleton is staying with fellow Canadian Kayla Alexander — and neither mentioned any of the hotel-room dirtiness that circulated social media when players first arrived.

The average day for both features a morning that could include a workout, followed by practice from 1 to 4 p.m. Then it’s time for coronavirus testing, where two are administered per day — one by throat, one by nose. At night, there’s an optional shootaround.

Free time for Nurse has been spent on a bike — though the heat may be putting an end to that — while Carleton says she uses her free time mainly for rest and recovery, with the occasional pool visit. She’s also had to cook meals for herself after opting out of the league’s meal plan initially.

“I’ve been living at home and my parents have been doing most of the cooking so I was like, ‘OK I should be an adult and cook for myself a little bit.’ But I’m over it now, I’m ready for someone else to cook for me again,” Carleton said.

Bridget Carleton is seen above playing in the Australian women’s basketball league in January. (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Basketball, of course, remains the top priority.

“What’s nice about playing basketball is it’s a way for us to kind of forget what’s going on in the world right now, forget that we’re in a bubble,” Carleton said. “During those three hours of practice we’re in our comfort zone. That’s what we’re used to doing, is playing with our teammates having fun.”

Nurse agreed that it’s nice just to be playing competitive basketball again.

“I feel like we’ve been in this bubble for three years and it’s like 15 days. But I think it’s been something that’s really exciting, just in the sense that for the last two months it was just me and my trainer in the gym and no one else.”

Drawing on national team experience

While much has been similar, Carleton and Nurse enter the 2020 season at very different stages of their careers.

Carleton, of Chatham, Ont., was drafted 21st overall by the Connecticut Sun last year, but cut by the team mid-season before catching on with the Lynx. Over eight games between the two clubs, she averaged five minutes and scored three points on 1-for-8 shooting.

Entering her sophomore season, Carleton hopes to make a name for herself. The six-foot-two forward played impactful minutes with Team Canada at the FIBA Americup and Olympic qualifiers last year.

The national team experience has helped ease the transition to the bubble.

“I think there’s some familiarity with that which makes it easier and I kind of wasn’t expecting. I thought this was all going to be strange, all going to be weird, but that’s kind of something I’m used to almost, so that’s kind of been the coolest thing,” Carleton said.

Nurse, meanwhile, enters her third season in the league referring to herself as a “baby vet.” The Liberty, armed a new coach, embraced the youth movement this season and brought a league-record seven rookies to Florida.

That means Nurse, coming off her first all-star appearance, has been tasked with taking on more of a leadership role. The Hamilton, Ont., native says her style is less vocal and more by example.

“What’s interesting with me and my career is I got pulled up to the Olympic team at 16 years old, so there was really this big gap… and as I continue to go — I’ve been there now for like eight years — I’m still technically the fourth youngest on the team but I’m a vet because I’ve been there forever,” Nurse said.

Pushing for social justice

The national team recently met with the Canadian Olympic Committee to discuss the IOC’s controversial Rule 50 barring protests on the field of play. Carleton wasn’t able to attend the meeting due to practice, but said she hears it was productive.

“There was a lot of different opinions about it. To take it away completely might not be the best answer but to implement it, make some changes might be better fit for everyone.”

Nurse said she’s in a unique situation living in two countries. She said racism in Canada and the U.S. can reveal itself in different ways.

“A lot of conversation is actually about the Aboriginal community within Canada. The Indigenous people, the treatment of them and then also the treatment obviously of Black people and other people of colour.

“[I’m] trying to really voice my opinion on different things and voice what needs to change, both in the Canadian side of the sport and diversity there as well as what goes on in America.”

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