Jordin Canada flourishing from lessons learned

Jordin Canada showcases her versatility. Photo by Percy Anderson.
Jordin Canada showcases her versatility. Photo by Percy Anderson.

UCLA sophomore starting point guard Jordin Canada is averaging 15.9 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game this season – a significant improvement in every statistical category over last year. She is the Pac-12 Conference assists leader.

A Los Angeles native, Canada guided the Windward School to four league titles, three California section championships and a state title during her tenure. She signed with the Bruins as the sixth-ranked player in the country in the 2014 class. Along with four others, Canada was part of UCLA’s first No. 1 recruiting class.

The Bruins entered 2014-2015 ranked in the top 25, and lost their first four games. They struggled in conference play but picked up momentum midway, and were chosen for the WNIT. They went on to beat West Virginia in the tournament championship game.

Last summer Canada was the starting point guard for USA Basketball’s World University Games team, which won a gold medal in Gwangju, South Korea.

UCLA has been ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll since December, and this week are No. 12. They are in third place in Pac-12 standings, behind No. 7 Oregon State and No. 9 Arizona State. The Bruins beat both Stanford and Cal last month for the first Bay Area sweep in almost ten years. They have been selected twice this month by the NCAA as a potential top ten team in the NCAA Tournament.

Canada is known for her energetic, high-energy play on the court. With the departure of one reserve point guard and the season-ending injury of another, Canada has been logging many minutes for UCLA, but is not seeming any worse for wear. ESPN analyst Kara Lawson recently named Canada as one of the top two point guards in the country.

Sue Favor: You’ve had a fantastic season this year. How have you progressed as a player?

Jordin Canada: I think it started in the off season, playing for USA Basketball; that really built my confidence up. Last year it was pretty hard for me to come in and lead a bunch of girls who had already been playing for three years together. I was ready, but I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. So going to USA and having to do the same thing, and having to control the game and control the players who were much older than me, it just build my confidence in knowing I could come back and do the same thing for this team. I improved my game, improved my jump shot, improved in my ability to see the whole floor for my shooters. So in the summer time that’s when I really tried to work harder.

Sue Favor: Have all those hard knocks last year paid dividends this year?

Jordin Canada: Oh definitely – not only for me but for our team in general. We know what it’s going to be like, how hard it is, and we got that experience in the WNIT. It’s going to be the same thing if we get into the NCAA Tournament; it’s going to be twice as hard. You’ve got to be focused and mentally-prepared 24/7, because you’re going to be playing teams who are potentially top 10 teams. Last year was a slap in the face for us, but it definitely helped pave the way for this season, and in the off season helped us get prepared.

Sue Favor: How have the Bruins evolved as a team overall?

Jordin Canada: I think we have better chemistry. Last year we had 10 players who had never played together, and it was really hard to build that chemistry. There were a lot of expectations for our team, and that got to our heads. This year building our chemistry in the off season was key for us in growing, and knowing what we have to work on as a group. Individually, everyone has taken into account what they need to improve on, and that has shown. Altogether we’ve just got much better at reading each other. There’s a lot more confidence on this team.

Jordin Canada is averaging 15.9 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game this season. Photo by Percy Anderson.
Canada is averaging 15.9 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game this season. Photo by Percy Anderson.

Sue Favor: It’s ironic that last year the Bruins came into the season ranked, and this year you didn’t, and look at where you are now.

Jordin Canada: It doesn’t matter about rankings; that’s just somebody’s opinion of us. We’re just out there to play the game and play for each other, and for the people we care about. It’s just about us and our team; it’s not about anything else.

Sue Favor: How do you balance being a student with being an athlete?

Jordin Canada: It’s very difficult. Most of my time is spent on the basketball court or in the classroom. Midterms and finals are the most stressful weeks we have. You have extra help outside; there’s tutoring. There are mentors that help us with whatever we need, and even on the road we have study hall sessions. It’s easy to manage your homework and your school work – it just takes a lot of time.

Sue Favor: When did you first start playing basketball, and who put the ball in your hand?

Jordin Canada: I started playing basketball when I was 6. My dad used to tell me when I was a baby I would sit on the couch and watch the Lakers play. I have no recall of that. As I got older, I’d go over to my cousin’s house and watch them play basketball. At one moment I just told my mom, “I want to play basketball.” At first I ran track as my first sport, but I decided it was too much running. So I decided I wanted to do basketball – ironically, because I’m still running up and down the court. My mom put me in this (club ball) program called GBL, and I was there from 6 on until high school.

Sue Favor: Have your parents ever missed one of your games?

Jordin Canada: My dad missed tonight’s game – he’s sick. But if one parent isn’t there, the other one is there. In travel ball, my parents couldn’t travel all the time, so they missed quite a few games. In college they try not to miss too many. Mostly they’re there for all the home games. They’re coming to the Pac-12 Tournament this year, so they’re really supportive.

Sue Favor: You have a great relationship with assistant coach Sharron Perry. How has she helped you at UCLA?

Jordin Canada: She has helped me tremendously. Last year I struggled so much, and I had a lot of people in my ear saying this and saying that. She helped me realize what I’m really here for, who I am as a person, and that basketball is something else: it’s not who I am, it’s what I do. I talk to her when I’m feeling frustrated, and she always gives me great advice. She’s the person that I go to, and she’s helped me tremendously with my decisions. At one point in time I felt like I didn’t want to be here. Talking to her, she put it in perspective that it’s not all about me; it’s about more than me, and I really had to think about that. She’s changed the way I see things.

Sue Favor: Why did you think you didn’t want to be at UCLA?

Jordin Canada: It wasn’t college, it was having expectations last year of being one of the best college teams and then having the season that we had. I had people in my ear and also feeling like I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been and should have been, and it took a toll on me. That’s when I realized talking to coach Shannon that it’s just somebody’s opinion and it doesn’t really matter, just as long as I know what I think of myself and what I think of this team. At the end of the day, basketball is just a game.

Sue Favor: What are your goals as a player? An athlete? A student?

Jordin Canada: Right now my goal as a player is hopefully making it to the pros. And just touching young girls lives and knowing that it doesn’t matter. A lot of young girls come up to me and ask me how I play basketball because I’m so small, because I’m short. That’s one of the reasons I play the game is so young girls can see that it doesn’t matter about height – it’s all about the passion and heart for this game.

As a student, I strive to be the best student I can be, studying, A’s and B’s, and learning as much as I can. I want to be a Neo natal nurse after all this is over, going to nursing school. I love taking care of babies; I babysit for the neighbors whenever I’m home. I love babies.

Sue Favor: What has basketball taught you about life?

Jordin Canada: Never to give up. There’s always going to be trials and tribulations in your life, and basketball is something that’s helped me with that in always continuing to fight, no matter what it is. Basketball is more than just a game, and you play it for more than just yourself. I played basketball for my family – they’re my motivation, especially my mom. And knowing in life that everything’s not going to be perfect, and that you have to continue to fight through adversity.

Canada hopes to play professional basketball, after which she plans to be a Neo natal nurse. Photo by Percy Anderson.
Canada hopes to play professional basketball, after which she plans to be a Neo natal nurse. Photo by Percy Anderson.

Sue Favor: Finish this sentence: “basketball is….”

Jordin Canada: (Long pause) Basketball is….so many things. (Another pause) Basketball is my passion.

Sue Favor: It shows.

Jordin Canada: Thank you.

Sue Favor: If you had any free time, what would you do with it?

Jordin Canada: You know, that’s funny – a lot of people ask me that. Actually, my free time is spent sleeping. I love to sleep whenever I can. Even this morning, we had shoot-around at 1:40 and I didn’t wake up until 11:30 – that’s how much sleep I needed to get. But other than that, spending time with my friends. Most of my friends play for USC, ironically, or they go to USC. So I’m always hanging out with them whenever we have time. Or I just go home and relax and hang out with my parents. I know they’re struggling this year because last year I went home all the time and this year I’m barely coming home, so they miss me a lot.

Sue Favor: One more question: what’s on your music playlist right now?

Jordin Canada: I like to mix it up; it depends on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I listen to a lot of hip hop or R&B. It’s hard to say, I don’t really have favorite songs, but my favorite male artist is Ne-Yo, I love his music. Female artists, I’m all across the board. I like Jhene Aiko, Beyonce, Alicia Keys. It’s too hard to have favorite songs.