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After ‘roller-coaster’ Olympic qualification, Canada’s Amihere back on court with Athletes Unlimited

Laeticia Amihere couldn’t watch anymore.

The Mississauga, Ont., native was in the stands in Sopron, Hungary, as the home team took a 46-27 halftime lead over Spain in an Olympic basketball qualifying tournament in February.

If Hungary won, it would book its ticket for Paris while eliminating Canada. If Spain somehow pulled off the comeback, Canada would reach its fourth straight Olympics.

But with Hungary holding a 19-point advantage, Amihere, the Atlanta Dream player and one-time Olympian, left the stadium and headed straight for her hotel room.

“My teammates were watching the game at the dining hall and I went to my room and just kind of shut down social media. So I had no idea what was going on. Honestly, we could have qualified, or we could have not qualified. That was not my concern at that point because I was not gonna put myself through that roller-coaster,” she recalled to CBC Sports.

Then, all of a sudden, Amihere heard screaming in the hallways.

“I just immediately knew what happened. I didn’t know how it happened, but I knew that it was a good thing.”

Indeed, Spain had completed the improbable comeback, halting Hungary’s Olympic hopes and pushing Canada through to Paris.

Disaster averted.

“It was really a big sigh of relief, a lot of crying and a lot of emotions. The vibe is all over the place and chaotic. But after everything happened, we all said ‘let’s move on from here. We leave all that behind and now it’s time to work,'” Amihere said.

Athletes Unlimited season

Now, Amihere is in Dallas, Texas, where she’s set to take part in her first Athletes Unlimited (AU) season, which begins Thursday.

Athletes Unlimited is a one-month pro women’s basketball league in which teams rotate weekly and players earn individual points toward season-long standings through both personal and team accomplishments. Amihere is one of 18 WNBA players set to compete, including the likes of two-time Olympic champion Angel McCoughtry and veterans Sydney Colson and Natasha Cloud.

The league provides another option for WNBA players who don’t want to play overseas in their off-season.

“During my younger years, there was nothing for us. Going overseas was all we could do to make money. Everyone is not built for overseas, it’s not easy to do. This is a great platform for people to have,” McCoughtry said.

Amihere played 21 games in her rookie WNBA season, averaging 2.7 points across seven minutes per contest.

She said her first professional off-season has been spent focusing on individual work and the national team, so she’s never experienced the overseas grind. However, she did go straight from the NCAA Final Four with South Carolina in March to the WNBA season in May.

“It definitely takes a toll on your body and it also takes a toll mentally on you. [AU helps alleviate] the toll on our body that men’s players don’t have to experience because they’re able to just stay and do their full season in North America,” she said.

March Madness overlap

The AU season also overlaps with March Madness, and for the first time since 2019, Amihere will not be participating. Still, she said she’s spent plenty of time around the Gamecocks while playing nearby in Atlanta and added that she is proud of the foundation she left behind.

Like UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards, a fellow Canadian national-team member, Amihere held name, image and likeness (NIL) deals while competing in the NCAA., but had to limit her business to Canada.

Edwards was recently unable to speak about a deal in Storrs, Conn., for fear of losing her student visa in the U.S.

Amihere said she felt she was missing out on the NIL benefits her American teammates were receiving while in school.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle, something that we’re working toward. But NIL is obviously not benefiting us in in the same ways [as Americans]. And it’s unfortunate, but I know that in a couple months she’ll be reaping the benefit of not being a student and just being a pro and being able to get everything that she deserves,” Amihere said.

Amihere will begin the AU season on a team captained by the Indiana Fever’s Kelsey Mitchell and alongside fellow WNBAers Zia Cooke (Los Angeles Sparks) and Maddy Siegrist (Dallas Wings).

Her aim is to be a “sponge,” soaking up knowledge from fellow pro players to take with her into the 2024 WNBA season as well as the Olympics.

“I truly believe that we were meant to be in the Olympics. I think that our work has shown for itself and we’re one of the best in the world and I think it would have honestly been a disservice if we didn’t make it.

“So now that we made it’s kind of going in there as the underdog. I think that we have a lot to prove but I know that we possess every attribute that is needed to become successful.”

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