By: Holly MacKenzie

EDMONTON, AB (November 13, 2019) - When the Canadian Senior Women’s National team takes to the Edmonton EXPO Centre court on Thursday for the FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Americas Tournament, Bridget Carleton will have a special cheering section on hand.

“It’ll be the first time my dad is coming to see me play for Canada so it will be super special,” Carleton said in a recent phone interview. “I am excited to get in that environment. My mom saw me play for Team Canada in my earlier years. And then there’s the younger generations that get to look up to us. There’s just so many positive things that will come from this, playing in Canada. I’m really looking forward to it.”

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the 22-year-old Carleton. After graduating from Iowa State university (averaging 21.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game in the best single season of any player in school history as a senior), Carleton was drafted 21st overall by the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA draft. Though she began the season with the Sun, she finished a member of the Minnesota Lynx. 

Following the conclusion of the WNBA season, her basketball journey continued as she flew to Australia to begin playing in the WNBL after signing with JCU Townsville Fire.  It has been a great experience thus far, but Carleton does acknowledge it being an adjustment from college, getting used to the different leagues and playing year-round.  Still, she’s taking it all in stride.

“It was difficult just because it’s so new to me,” she said. “Especially in my first season playing professionally, I went from WNBA right into Team Canada and then right to Australia, so it was like a lot happening at once, but I’m really enjoying it. New teammates, new country, new coaches, but it’s been fun so far.”

Despite the jam-packed schedule, Carleton flew to Edmonton last weekend to be available to play for Canada in the FIBA Women’s Olympic Pre-Qualifying Americas Tournament. Things have been extremely busy for her over the past six months, but playing for Canada didn’t require a second thought from Carleton; it was immediately a given.

“Playing for Team Canada is always my priority,” Carleton said. “It’s my biggest passion, playing the sport I love, and putting on that Team Canada jersey is an indescribable feeling and every time I get the chance to do that, I do it with pride. I take advantage of it and do as much as I can for the team and the country.”

Though her professional career is just getting started, Carleton is already taking necessary precautions to ensure she’s able to perform at her peak year-round. 

“I think that’s something I’ve kind of learned along the way and it’s something I’ll need to continue as my career goes on and as I start to get older,” she said. “In college I felt like I could eat and do whatever I wanted and still feel okay, but especially with the time change and how often we’re playing and practicing at the high level we’re playing at, definitely sleep has been huge for me, and eating right to fuel my body and make sure I’m ready to go and recover. It’s been huge. Knowing when I need to train really hard, and knowing when I need to rest. There’s a balance there for sure.”

One of the differences with playing in Australia for the first time — thanks to the recent Daylight Savings time change in Canada — is being 15 hours ahead of her family and friends. To combat the time difference, and being essentially half a day ahead of everyone back home, Carleton wakes up early each morning to have an opportunity to talk to her family and stay connected. Still, not being able to pick up a phone and make the call whenever she wants has been something to get used to. 

Of course, the 30-degree weather, beautiful beaches, and dips in the pool while Canada is just gearing up for winter has been an added bonus of life in Australia. Also helping to make the adjustment easier is that Carleton isn’t the only Canadian hooper in Australia. Fellow Team Canada member Kia Nurse is in her second season playing for the University of Canberra Capitals, who won the NBL title last season. Though the two are playing on opposite ends of the country, just having a friend on the same time zone who has done it all before is something Carleton considers a huge bonus as she navigates her first season.

“It’s been really helpful,” Carleton said. “She played in Australia last year too, so she gave me the run down, told me what it was like, everything like that. We actually played her a couple of weekends ago so we got some time to hang out in her city and it was cool just to know she [might not be] right around the corner, because she’s on the other side of the country, but it’s still nice to know there’s someone I’m close to in the same country as me. She’s been great and super helpful.”

Carleton speaks fondly about time spent with national team teammates and credits the organization for creating an environment that players want to return to year after year.

“It’s so awesome,” she said. “We’ve built a really awesome culture within Canada Basketball and it’s a priority for all of us to play for our national team. We love that environment, we love the coaches, the team, we love just being a part of the culture. I think we all take great pride in putting on the Canadian jersey. Getting the chance it play in Canada doesn’t happen very often so I’m very excited for that. I’m super, super pumped.”

After representing Canada in Edmonton in front of family and friends, Carleton will head back to Australia, and begin adjusting to the 15-hour time difference once again as she does her best to help the Fire following a 13-day break in WNBL action for FIBA play. 

For now, though, her focus is on getting to wear the Team Canada uniform and getting to play for her country at home. “Obviously it’s exciting to play in Canada on home soil,” Carleton said. “But also, for Canadians that can get out, the Edmonton community can come out and watch us and see what our national team is about.

“I think it’s so special and not everyone gets the chance to do that,” she said. “I love it. It’s what I play basketball for.”