By Michael Sun
Barrhaven forward Merissah Russell took another step towards her basketball dream – the WNBA – at the FIBA Under-17 World Cup.
“The experience itself was beautiful, just to represent my country,” Russell said.
She led Canada with 11.8 points-per-game in the tournament. She had a personal best of 18 in a win against Angola. Canada lost to Spain in the round-of-16.
“We didn’t get the result we really came for,” she noted. “It was bittersweet but it was great to play along with my teammates.”
Canada and Russell finished on a high note, winning all three consolation games to finish 9th.
“We had to rally together and do the best we can…we just put all our energy into getting that 9th place,” she said.
Russell also played this April at the Commonwealth Games, which she called her biggest learning experience, competing with faster, smarter and more experienced players.
Russell said her achievements come with her setting goals: learning from tournaments, working on her game as well as becoming a better leader by leading by example.
She noted how the grind of workouts and practice often involves 12-hours, five to seven days a week.
“You just have to keep pushing yourself: it’s definitely mental,” Russell adds. “You can’t tell yourself you’re tired because (then) your body’s going to get tired.”
The main motivation behind her work ethic is her dream of reaching the WNBA.
“When I started playing basketball and realized I could actually make it as far as I wanted to and as long as I put the hard work, the dedication into it, the dream just became more and more real,” she stated.
The 16-year old has already come a long way since she started organized basketball when she was 12. She was approached by coach Fabienne Blizzard about playing basketball in the summer of 2012 while she and her sister were playing touch football.
“The rest was history after that,” she said.
“Whenever I worked with coach Fab (Blizzard), I saw that the results were coming quick and I fell in love with it. I love seeing the results,” she adds.
Russell calls her progress “amazing”: “Four years ago, I didn’t think I’d be here.”
Russell described how she was then “a super lazy kid” at her first organized basketball game.
“I walked up the court,” she recalled. “After I sprinted one length, I was sucking wind and just using it as exercise after school. It was a fun little outing, to make new friends.”
After being cut from Team Ontario’s U-15 team in 2013, she said she experienced a mentality change and took the sport more seriously.
Basketball has also made her a more confident person, according to her.
“I used to be very shy and stuff like that but with basketball, I’ve just been able to see myself progress and see who I could be as a person and see where hard work can really take me,” she said. “I kind of just came out of my comfort zone to be comfortable with who I am.”
She now describes herself as outgoing and lively. She uses words such as aggressive, creative and flashy to describe her playing style.
Her next major basketball milestone is playing in the NCAA, which as she heads into Grade 11 is still years away. In the interim she’ll be focused on winning a championship with her Capital Courts team and as she stressed, just being a good person.
“My mother always says that basketball’s not always going to be there,” she said. “For me, basketball’s my life right now but I always have to focus on academics and who I am off the court, and personality-wise because at the end of the day, god-forbid something happens, I have something to fall back on.”
Ottawa’s Julia Chadwick also competed for Canada last month. As a member of the national team she won a silver medal at the FIBA U18 Women’s Americas Championship.
She averaged almost 10 minutes per game for Canada. It’s the team’s third-straight silver medal at the U18 Women’s Americas Championship. Chadwick, 17, moved from Ottawa last year to join the Durham Elite program in the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association.