The Bruins knew what was coming. Especially point guard Jordin Canada, who hurried to the baseline.
“On the line,” said coach Cori Close, signaling suicide sprints toward the end of practice last week. A male practice player had slipped past three UCLA players to drain a corner jumper.
Men’s players, 26. UCLA, 9.
It didn’t matter that the No. 9-ranked Bruins had pounded NAIA Westmont 80-45 in an exhibition the night before.
“I want every possession to be played with a sense of urgency,” said Close, who guided the Bruins to the Sweet 16 last season for the first time since 1999.
Canada, who walked across her family’s living-room floor at 8 months old before having ever crawled, doesn’t know any gear other than all-out. The junior All-American dropped 15 points, 5 assists, 5 steals, 4 rebounds and 1 block against Westmont — even crashing into her team’s bench to save a ball in the blowout.
The 5-foot-6 playmaker often flies up the court, throwing no-look passes and twisting ankles with in-and-out crossovers. Ryan Finney of UCLA Athletics Communications said he struggles to live-tweet games because he runs out of adjectives to describe Canada’s flair. “She’s a human highlight reel,” Finney said.
But what Canada really wants to be is a leader. She dribbled a ball during the recent suicide sprints, and instead of stopping at the baseline like her teammates, she continued to sprint a few feet beyond the line.
She still beat everyone.
“That is the difference of Jordin between being a really great, flashy, fun point guard to now being an elite point guard that has a chance to be an Olympian,” Close said. “It’s those inches that you see her go every day.
“It’s not her talent; it’s not even her skill. It’s that she’s developing a beyond-the-line mentality.”
FINDING HER VOICE
Canada was sick of the missed layups. She and her Windward School prep teammates gasped for air, unable to make seven in a minute on both sides in the full-court drill. Windward coach Vanessa Nygaard, a former Stanford and WNBA player, signaled to keep sprinting.
Canada, motioning for her teammates to clear out and rebound for her, zoomed off. “Jordin was like, ‘I’m going. I’m taking every layup,'” said Nygaard, who doubted one player could accomplish the feat alone. “She dominated it.”
It wasn’t always that way. Unable to dribble as a 6-year-old, Canada was easy prey for the taller kids.
“I was always afraid. I would pick the ball up and I would just hold it. I’d panic and crunch down and they would all trap me,” Canada said. “My coach would always have to call a timeout.”
Her coach told her that she’d have to play point guard and learn to take care of the ball. “She didn’t want it,” said Joyce Canada, Jordin’s mother. “She wanted to shoot.”
But 8-year-old Canada was hooked once she discovered she could handle the rock against 10-year-olds at an AAU national tournament. She loved running the offense and dropping dimes.
She was also drawn to challenges. That’s partially why she chose UCLA, hoping to bring the program its first NCAA championship (the Bruins won the 1978 AIAW national title). (READ FULL STORY HERE).