Storm’s Canada on new role, outlook

Jordin Canada goes up for a tough shot against the Washington Mystics. Neil Enns/Storm photos.
Jordin Canada goes up for a tough shot against the Washington Mystics. Neil Enns/Storm photos.

The Seattle Storm drafted Jordin Canada last year with designs on her eventually inheriting the point guard crown from legend Sue Bird, who has been with the franchise for 18 seasons. But Canada was called to step into that role much sooner, as Bird had knee surgery in May and is out indefinitely.

Canada has more than embraced the challenge.

She is averaging 10 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game in an efficient 29.3 minutes of play. For a while she led the WNBA in assists, and still finds herself in the top 10.

Just as noticeable is Canada’s increased on-court confidence and explosiveness, which has been reminiscent of her time at UCLA, where she left as the program’s all-time assists leader, second-highest all-time scorer and ranked third on the all-time steals list. A big factor in defending champions Seattle still being in playoff contention, despite missing starters and seeing a revolving door of injuries this season, has been due to Canada’s steadiness.

Bird said she always saw glimpses of Canada’s potential.

“Last year she was able to sit back and learn, but she still gave us a lot of great minutes. Game two of the semifinals, she was huge for us,” Bird said. “Now she’s getting more of a chance to be a leader, to grow those areas of her game.”

“I’m very impressed with how everyone’s playing, and especially her.”

Prior to the season, Storm guard Noelle Quinn retired and was hired as an assistant coach for the team. She and Canada talk before games, and Canada said she likes her better in her role as a coach than as a player.

Canada injured her knee during a June match up, but as she did so many times in the past, she recovered rapidly and missed only three games.

She will turn 24 this Sunday.

When Sue Bird had knee surgery in May, you knew you had next. What was going through your mind at that point?

I knew I had to step up. I knew I was going to have a bigger responsibility and role on this team – to be a leader, to be a floor general. That’s what I was working on in the off-season, in Poland and in training camp, just trying to have that leadership mentality and trying to up my game as much as possible. So when that happened it sucked to have a legend go down – one of the best players on our team, that brings so much. But I had that “next man” mentality and tried to gain as much knowledge as possible in training camp.

Storm assistant coach Noelle Quinn confers with Jordin Canada. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld
Storm assistant coach Noelle Quinn confers with Jordin Canada. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld

You’ve doubled your points and rebounds per game average, tripled your steals and almost doubled your assists. How have you been able to do that?

It’s just experience – getting game experience and getting in the flow. Being able to learn as I go. Noe has been a great part in that, helping my game. My teammates too, being able to find them and create. But Noe especially has been an influence on my game. She is a former point guard, and I happened to bond with her and have chemistry, and she tells me what I needed to work on. We have that UCLA bond, just that UCLA mind. So it’s easier for her to talk to me and tell me what I need to work on and what I need to get better at.

Have you exceeded your own expectations? Has the team exceeded your expectations?

I don’t look at it as exceeding our expectations. I mean, we’re a really great team. When we’re playing great basketball we’re one of the best in the league. If you have that mentality it doesn’t matter who’s not here; we focus on who is here and how we can play as a team and build chemistry. I think we’ve done a great job of that; we’re playing Seattle basketball. So I don’t think the adversity we’ve had thus far matters. It’s about coming in and showing that we’re still a great basketball team regardless of who’s not playing. We’ve had a lot of injuries throughout the season, but everyone has stepped up and had that “next man” mentality.

You have high standards for yourself. How do you deal with the goal-setting process?

I just try to focus on the process and not so much on setting goals. I think throughout this year there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs and a lot of adversity, so fall in love with the process. I’m trying to get better day by day. In setting goals, you get kind of fixated and lose sight of what’s more important. So just trying to focus on the process.

You went overseas to play in Poland last fall and injured your back before the holiday break. You returned to the team in January and said you had a different attitude and outlook. Can you explain how your mindset changed, and why?

My first year of being overseas, it’s tough going overseas. You don’t know what to expect in a new country and the living environment. When I first got there is was really hard trying to adjust, and I came back home and got a chance to recuperate and rebuild. I knew going back I’d be there for four months without a break, so I knew I had to change my mindset. Because if I had the same mentality that I did when I first got there, I knew I wasn’t going to last. So I just had to switch it around and stay positive and just focus on basketball.

Jordin Canada. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld
Jordin Canada sets up a play. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld

This season you look like you did playing at UCLA – aggressive and creative. Are you having as much fun on the court as it seems?

Yeah, I’m having a lot of fun. I love this team, I love the fight of this team, and we have a lot of fun off the court as well as on the court. Having that game experience for my second year, yeah, it’s a lot more fun.

How is year one in the WNBA versus year two different for you mentally? In what ways have you changed and grown?

I know what to expect this year, I know what to expect from other teams, I know how good they are. My role has changed, obviously; I have to step up in ways that I didn’t have to last year. Just being aggressive and having confidence. Last year I didn’t know what to expect, and my confidence was a little bit low. Coming back I knew what was expected of me. And with Sue out, I knew I had to step up my game and my aggressiveness. I’ve kept that mindset and kept that confidence, and I’m building on that.

You characterized yourself as shy at UCLA. Are you still shy?

I’m opening up a little bit more. When I first meet people I still have that kind of like shy side of me, but once I open up, I’m fine. I’ve gotten a lot better.

You commented on social media last week that you’ve come a long way. To what were you referring?

Just having to remind myself – I’m really hard on myself – to continue to think about how far I’ve come. To think about how much I’ve improved, though I still have some ways to go. I continue to remind myself that it’s OK to give myself a break, and not to be too hard on myself. That’s it.

Jordin Canada, Alysha Clark. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld
Jordin Canada shares a laugh with Alysha Clark during pre-game warm ups. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld

What do you want to accomplish by the time you leave the WNBA?

That’s a great question. I just want to leave an impact on the game in whatever way I can, whether that be stats or affecting people’s lives – it doesn’t matter. I want to impact the youth and change the game. I want to leave a legacy behind.

Storm players come from all over the United States. It is fun to connect with different people?

I think that’s pretty cool. That’s what basketball is all about. You come across people you’d never expect to meet, and it’s great to meet people from all walks of life.

Do you have any go-to places or hangouts in Seattle?

I don’t, actually, but my teammates take me out all the time to certain spots, but there’s no particular favorite.

In our interview 3.5 years ago, when you were a sophomore at UCLA, you said basketball was your passion. Is it still?

Yeah, basketball will always, forever be my passion. Obviously I have other things I’m interested in, but basketball will always be something I love and am passionate about.