Bridget Carleton 'super excited' to be 1st Canadian to play WNBA game at home
When Bridget Carleton steps onto the Scotiabank Arena court on Saturday, she'll make history.
The Chatham, Ont., native is set to become the first Canadian to play a WNBA game in Canada when her Minnesota Lynx face the Chicago Sky in an exhibition in Toronto.
Carleton said she was "super excited" to be part of the momentous occasion for Canadian basketball.
"I think it's going to be huge. Not only the ticket sales people are excited about, but little boys and girls who are looking up to us, just getting excited about women's sports in general and having it in our own backyard, easy access," she said in a press conference on Friday.
"It's huge to help grow the game, so I think all of it combined, there's so many different aspects to it just one game can have."
The game, which starts at 4 p.m. ET, will be broadcast on TSN and Sportsnet with an all-Canadian, all-female group. Meghan McPeak will do play-by-play next to analyst Amy Audibert, while Nikki Reyes, co-host of CBC's Canada's Ultimate Challenge, takes on sideline reporting duties.
WATCH | Carleton discusses game with CBC Sports' Anastasia Bucsis:
Tickets sold out the day they became available. Carleton's grandmother will be among those in the crowd, getting to watch her granddaughter play professionally for the first time ever.
The 25-year-old spent her WNBA off-season plying her trade overseas in Spain, and with her season having just ended on Sunday, she said she hadn't seen her family since Christmas.
"So it's good to just kind of be here. Familiar environment. Yes, it will be a lot. It probably will be nerve-wracking once the game starts, but it's just compartmentalizing at this point. One thing at a time, and having teammates is helpful," Carleton said.
Carleton is one of four Canadians currently on WNBA rosters. Natalie Achonwa, who also plays for the Lynx, recently had a son. Kia Nurse signed with the Seattle Storm in the off-season, while rookie Laeticia Amihere was drafted eighth overall to the Atlanta Dream.
Achonwa will be at the game, though she won't play. Carleton said she, Achonwa and Nurse have been talking about the game in a group chat, and all plan to experience it in different ways.
Amihere told The Canadian Press that the game should be an inspiration to kids across the country.
"I wasn't able to look up to WNBA players, because they didn't have the TV channels in Canada, and obviously, there was no team in Canada," she said. "So for the young athletes being able to watch and attend these games, I think it's going to be crucial for them to be able to look up to our athletes."
WATCH | Amihere drafted by Dream:
Last June, The Athletic reported that Toronto was a possibility for WNBA expansion as soon as 2024. Other regions in the mix include Nashville, Philadelphia, Portland and California's Bay Area.
Former women's national team coach Lisa Thomaidis told CBC Sports a WNBA franchise would increase visibility and opportunity for young women.
"There is a passion for basketball in this country, especially in the GTA, but I think across the country that it would just change the landscape, I believe, of basketball in this country to have WNBA franchise," she said.
Carleton agreed that Toronto would make for a "good market," adding there is more than enough talent outside of the WNBA that could easily filter up if and when expansion does occur.
"I think it just makes sense with an environment, a demographic that's excited about basketball. [Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment] has been super supportive, obviously that's being shown through this exhibition game. To have a team in Toronto would be really, really cool," she told CBC Sports' Anastasia Bucsis in a recent interview.
WATCH | Carleton guides Canada to 2022 World Cup semifinals:
The WNBA has rarely crossed American borders — the last time a game was played outside of the U.S. was 2011 in England, and the lone instance prior was 2004 in Mexico.
Carleton's Lynx teammate Kayla McBride said she could sense the excitement.
"To actually be here and feel the energy and obviously playing with Bridget and [Achonwa] and I know there's a couple other Canadians in in our league, I think it's just really special for them to come here and be able to play in front of their own country," she said.
Before any of Saturday's pomp, Carleton will throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Blue Jays game on Friday night.
Her lone gameplan for that?