UConn recruit star of family network
Upstairs, in her family's living room, Kia Nurse will get to watch as many NCAA women's basketball tournament games as she wants this year. And hockey gets the primary assist for making it happen.
Nurse, a Connecticut signee and the youngest player on the Canadian women's basketball national team, has never been able to watch much of the NCAA women's tournament because the games are rarely shown on Canadian television.
But things have changed in the Nurse household now that Kia's brother, Darnell Nurse, a 19-year-old defenseman and the Edmonton Oilers' first-round pick in 2013, is playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
"We're a hockey family," Kia Nurse said. "We bought the TV package with all the channels so we can watch Darnell play. [In that package] we also get all the ESPN channels, so we can watch the tournament, too."
Nurse said she is "super excited" to get the chance to watch top-seeded Connecticut play.
"I'm so close to actually being in that situation," the 18-year-old, 6-foot point guard said. "To think that next year I could possibly be playing for a national title, it's exciting."
Nurse, who averaged 25.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season, led St. Thomas More to three straight Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association Quad A championships. She also led her club team, Hamilton Transway, to seven straight Ontario Basketball Association titles.
She represented Canada for the first time in 2011 on the Cadette U16 team that competed in Mexico. In 2012, she led Canada to a bronze medal at the U17 world championships in Holland.
Last year, playing for Canada's senior national team, she helped her country win a silver medal at the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico.
Erin Burns, a 5-6 guard at St. Thomas More, said several of her teammates gathered to watch Nurse on television when Team Canada played in Mexico.
"It's crazy to see what she's accomplished," Burns said. "She's competing against women twice her age.
"But anytime there's a loose ball, she's diving. When there's a [contested] rebound, she's always in the middle of the scrum. She's strong -- she can finish with contact even when she has three girls on her.
"Our whole team is supporting her."
Burns said she wouldn't be surprised if Nurse finds herself in Brazil leading Canada in the 2016 Olympics.
Courtnay Pilypaitis, a 26-year-old guard who was on that FIBA Americas team that qualified Canada for the 2014 world championships in Turkey, also raves about Nurse.
"It's that mentality she has," Pilypaitis said. "She takes pride in not letting her person score. She has a knack of frustrating her opponents and attacking them when they relax for a split second."
Getting on their nerves
Pilypaitis, who also serves as an assistant coach on the University of Vermont's women's basketball team, sometimes was matched up with Nurse at practice.
"I didn't win [those matchups], for sure," said Pilypaitis, who is 6-1. "She's in your shorts the entire time. She makes it so that you are constantly thinking about her defense instead of what you are trying to do on offense."
I ended up getting chirped at in a lot of different languages.Kia Nurse, on her experience at the FIBA Americas Championship
Nurse, who was 17 at the time, said her defense didn't win her any popularity contests with her international opponents.
"I tend to annoy people," she said. "I'm pretty quick, and I'm a pest.
"The older women didn't like me. I don't think they were expecting a 17-year-old kid on the team. When you are 17, you have a lot of energy. So I ended up getting chirped at in a lot of different languages."
As good as Nurse is defensively, her athleticism is also evident on offense. Nurse said she wants to improve the consistency of her jumper, but Pilypaitis said the "entire toolbox" is there.
"She has a great ability to get to the basket," Pilypaitis said. "She will get to your body and draw a foul or blow right by you for a layup. She can finish with either hand, and she knows all the counter moves."
Nurse certainly had a lot of role models from which to learn. Her sister Tamika, 26, played at Oregon and Bowling Green. Her aunt Raquel played at Syracuse. And Kia's mom, Cathy, played in Canada for McMaster University.
Nurse's "family tree" is more like a garden with big-time athletes sprouting up in a variety of different sports.
Raquel's husband is former Syracuse and NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Darnell, a 6-3 defenseman, was the seventh overall selection in last year's NHL draft, and their father, Richard, is a former wide receiver who played in the Canadian Football League.
It's fair to say Nurse admires her brother, but there's also a rivalry there between two fierce competitors.
"I think I was a better skater [than Darnell], but it didn't stick with me," she said.
"Last year, [Darnell] turned a lot of heads at [Oilers training camp]. He's a crazy worker, and he shocked people with how well he played in the entire exhibition season. I think he's less than two years away [from the NHL], maybe a year."
A late UConn push
How long it will take Nurse to make an impact at UConn remains to be seen. But she's smart -- she has a 3.5 GPA and is interested in studying business, either international or sports management. UConn fans would say she was smart enough to consider the Huskies even when they were "very late" in recruiting her.
"I was pretty much down to my final five," Nurse said of her selection process. "Then [UConn coach] Geno [Auriemma] came to the Boo Williams [AAU Tournament], and when we saw him, my teammates said, 'Somebody go get his autograph.'"
As it turns out, it was Auriemma who wanted Nurse's signature -- on scholarship papers. He called a couple of days later and said he wanted to start recruiting her for his 2014 class.
"Five schools became six at that point," Nurse said with a laugh. "They had thought I was a junior, and that's why they were late. I was confused at first, but then I was OK with it -- they are a great program."
Calling defending national champion UConn "a great program" is almost an understatement. UConn is undefeated this season and is going for a record ninth national title.
"We're planning on going to see them live either in the Elite Eight or in the Final Four," Nurse said. "I'm excited."