TORONTO (FIBA Olympic Qualifying for Women) - The draw for this summer's Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Ankara held a special significance for Canadian forward Lizanne Murphy.
Having landed mid-season in the French league with Tarbes Gespe Bigorre, there was a certain sense of inevitability she would end up facing France in the fight for a place at the London Games and that's exactly how it panned out.
Not surprisingly, there is currently plenty to discuss in the locker room for Murphy and her French club colleagues while the player may also find herself getting a few phone calls from Canadian head coach Allison McNeill searching for some additional scouting information.
“Of course I had to smile when I saw that we were in the same pool as France for the tournament,” admitted Murphy.
“My Tarbes team-mate Flo Lepron and I had been joking around back and forth ever since I got here about the potential Canada versus France battle!
“But I don't think I will be the main scout at all since our coaches do a lot with video and we have played France many times. So both of our teams know each other fairly well. We always have hard-fought games with them.
“We also played Mali a few years ago and I am sure they are already getting video on them as we speak.
“That being said, I am sure they will be happy if I can tell the team about any tendencies some of the players may have!
“At this level, everyone is good, so we will just have to come focused on the game plan that our coaches put in place.
“We are happy to draw them in the first round as opposed to the Quarter-Finals although every team will be good and ready to fight for the Olympics - all of the pools look very competitive in my opinion.”
Future in coaching
Any additional input into scouting or coaching would probably come easy to Murphy who even as a young player was not shy in expressing a desire to pick up a clipboard and study game tape.
In fact at one point as she neared graduation, she was quoted as saying she might possibly prefer to have a career in coaching rather than playing.
"When I was leaving college, I was really unsure about where basketball would take me and I felt that I could have gone in many different directions,” Murphy recalled.
“At this moment though, I see myself solely as a player and consequently I’m going to try and continue to play at the highest level I can.
“In the future I will definitely get into some coaching, but I don’t know at what level yet.
“Basketball is something I am so passionate about that I don't think it will be easy to step away from once my playing career is over.”
It’s certainly the case that Murphy has more pressing matters to think about at club level after a turbulent season at Tarbes who failed to win a single game in EuroLeague Women and then were recently handed a hefty points deduction by league chiefs for alleged rule infringements.
It means the former champions find themselves in the unenviable position of propping up the French League and fighting for survival as they await the outcome of their appeal. But, Murphy is adamant a strength of spirit and support within Tarbes will get them through to calmer waters.
"When I arrived in Tarbes at Christmas, there had been some ups and downs during the first half of the season. It is really unfortunate that we only had four EuroLeague Women games after the Christmas break because we really started to play well in January," she said.
“We played three super close games that we almost won, but unfortunately that does not show up in the record.
“I think the city of Tarbes is really great. Despite the difficulties this season, they are still coming to the games and cheering really loud. Because it is a small city, when I see people around town; they all seem very passionate to talk to me about basketball and to encourage us.
“You can really feel that this is a basketball city and that they love their team here so while we are not sure if the ruling of the LFB will stand or not, we are going to keep fighting and trying to win games because I really believe the entire city is behind us.”
Escaping relegation and having a strong finish to the domestic season would be a real tonic for Murphy before she turns her focus to the Olympics. Whatever happens, she can at least take great heart from what she truly believes are exciting times for the national team who are looking to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in over a decade.
“Women's basketball is really on the upswing right now in Canada" she insisted.
"We have a very talented group of older, experienced players, as well as some exciting young talents that are coming up.
“It is a great time to be either a fan or involved with basketball in Canada.
“There are so many players that are really committed to representing our country to the best of their ability, and that will just continue to improve our level of play.
“Of course us making the Olympics would give such a boost to the sport - that is another motivating factor for us!
The last time Canada competed on the global stage was two years ago in the Czech Republic at the FIBA World Championship and above anything else, Murphy feels the experience was a valuable one and they will be better equipped this time around.
“We were a fairly young team back then. I think as a team we really learned a lot and gained invaluable experience from the high level of play there," she explained.
“We played so many close games that could have gone either way, and that served as a confidence boost for us moving forward.
“I think that tournament, and the fact that almost all of our players are now playing professionally in Europe is really going to help us move forward.
“We are a much more experienced team now than we were a few years ago!”