Women's basketball star Kia Nurse to carry Canada's flag into closing

TORONTO — After leading the Canadian women to a historical basketball gold medal at the Pan American Games, Kia Nurse planned to carry the flag for them.

The 19-year-old exploded for 33 points in Canada's thrilling 81-73 victory over the United States — the first basketball gold medal for Canada in any major international Games.

She was named flag-bearer Sunday morning, capping what was a coming-out party for the young guard.

"I'm super ecstatic, and I wish (my whole team) could be here," Nurse said. "All 12 of us would definitely attempt to hold the flag together and wave. But I'm so pumped for this and really excited and fortunate to have the opportunity."

The basketball team moved into the athletes village the day after the opening ceremonies, so players didn't march. Only a few were still in town to march Sunday night.

Canada's women's team has been quietly on the rise, finishing fifth at last summer's world championships. But outside of basketball circles, their performances had largely gone unnoticed — until Monday night's thrilling gold-medal victory in front of a capacity crowd at Ryerson University's Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Nurse's name was trending on Twitter in Toronto that night.

And at Sunday morning's news conference, she thanked Canadian fans who "stepped up to the plate."

"Our crowd was our sixth man, and we couldn't have done it without them," she said. "It's so great to see the support and the attention the women's side is getting, because we really have been on the rise, we have been performing extremely well the last couple of years, with a lot of historic finishes, and to have this one under our belt on home soil, it was incredible."

A couple of days after Canada's victory, Nurse visited a basketball camp for young girls in Hamilton. She hopes her team's performance, and the attention it received, will inspire girls to pursue the sport.

"The girls were so excited to see the gold medal, and it's just an opportunity for me to go down there and show them you know, you can do this too, it's not impossible.

After the victory, Nurse credited her athletic family for her big-game poise.

Her brother is Edmonton Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse. Her dad Richard was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, while her mom Kathy played basketball at McMaster University. Her uncle is NFL legend Donovan McNabb.

The Canadian women went undefeated through the Pan Am Games tournament, recording wins over Venezuela, Argentina and Cuba, before knocking off Brazil in the semifinal before their gold-medal win.

Nurse said it's been "a whirlwind" few days since.

"The last couple of days have been a little crazy, but it's been so amazing to see the support that our basketball team has been getting, and we're just hoping to keep pushing that through with our Olympic qualifier," she said.

They now head to Edmonton, where they open the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament on Aug. 9.

Boxer Mary Spencer carried Canada's flag into the closing four years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press