It wasn't something she had on her radar, but when Canada Basketball's senior women's national team asked Rams women's basketball head coach Carly Clarke to join them on their five-game exhibition series in Europe, she was quick to pack her bags.
No stranger to Canada Basketball, Clarke has been progressing through the national ranks. In the summer of 2016 she was promoted to the head coach position of the junior women's national team (U18/19) after spending five years with the U16/17 "cadette" program. However, this trip to Europe—which saw Team Canada compete against the likes of Spain, France, Japan, Montenegro, and Ukraine—was Clarke's first experience with the senior women's national team, the pinnacle of Canadian women's basketball.
"The opportunity to work with world-class coaches, a couple that I've worked with before but never in the same setting, to see how they operate and how the top-level of our high-performance teams works and competes with some of the world's best was fantastic," says Clarke. "We played against five very good teams—four that are preparing for FIBA's EuroBasket competition that is a week and a half away—including Spain and France who finished second and fourth in Rio respectively. To coach the best in our country and to coach against some of the best in the world, provided a lot of different learning opportunities."
The series was the first phase of this summer's international schedule for Team Canada, ultimately leading up to the FIBA Americas tournament in August which offers a chance to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. The Canadians won twice in the series against Japan (ranked #13) and Ukraine (ranked #41), and lost to Spain, France, and Montenegro.
Clarke will be returning to Europe with Canada Basketball in July, this time with her junior women's national team as they compete in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championships in Udine and Cividale del Friuli, Italy.
It is certainly not Clarke's first FIBA world championship, though this time, she has her latest experience to draw on.
"Coaching players of the [senior team's] caliber, players that are intrinsically self-motivated, take care of themselves in so many different ways and truly are professionals that are constantly striving to get better, these are all traits that I can bring back to both the junior national team and our team at Ryerson," reflected Clarke. "It reaffirmed that there is no secret recipe for success in terms of tactics or play. The senior team members are certainly skilled but what makes them so great is how they take care of themselves and how to mentally be in the moment. Those are the things I can bring back to my other teams."
At Ryerson, Clarke has employed a team mantra for the Rams: "#ChampionsMindset." The experience with the SWNT certainly reinforced the toughness and dedication it takes to be both a professional and a champion.
"The athletes' understanding of the importance of everything else outside of the 40 minutes of game time was incredible," added Clarke. "I was with them for 21 straight days and not once did I hear a single person complain about being jet-lagged, tired, or sore. They are true professionals. They knew what they had to do and when it was time to do it, they did it."
For Clarke, every minute she spends with Canada Basketball is a great professional development experience, and it is something she is constantly seeking. Next up in her summer agenda is a trip to D.C. to spend time with the WNBA's Washington Mystics as part of a pilot mentorship project that Clarke is a part of. In Washington she'll shadow a couple of shootarounds, practices, and games.
“As coaches, we are always seeking development opportunities in the offseason. Having the opportunity to work with the best coaches, athletes, and staff; I'm not sure there is a better way to experience that than this past month," reflected Clarke. "The chance to experience and compete against the best in the world, provided an excellent chance to learn and to get better.”
Once Coach Clarke's international summer wraps up, the focus will shift entirely back to her Ryerson Rams, bringing a summer of new knowledge and a clearer understanding of how to be and how to lead a group of aspiring professionals, only adding to their Champions Mindset.
The Rams 2017-18 schedule will be released in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to www.ryersonrams.ca for the latest updates and information when it becomes available.