For Canada's Shy Day-Wilson, success with Duke basketball is just the beginning

Canadian Duke point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, right, is seen above in January. Day-Wilson is looking to build on being named her conference's top freshman during her sophomore season with the Blue Devils. (Karl B. DeBlaker/The Associated Press - image credit)
Canadian Duke point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, right, is seen above in January. Day-Wilson is looking to build on being named her conference's top freshman during her sophomore season with the Blue Devils. (Karl B. DeBlaker/The Associated Press - image credit)

The arrow is pointing up for Canada's Shy Day-Wilson.

She was named her conference's freshman of the year while playing for the esteemed Duke basketball program last year.

The Toronto native then starred at an international U-23 tournament in her hometown over the summer, helping Canada roll to gold.

At five-foot-six and often overlooked — metaphorically and literally — it was, by all accounts, a monumental season for Day-Wilson.

Yet Duke head coach Kara Lawson said her Canadian starting point guard is just scratching the surface.

"I don't know that things have clicked yet for her. And what I mean by that is I think there's still a lot of room to grow," Lawson said. "I mean that as a compliment to Shy. She has a high level of skill, a high level of competitiveness. She really, really wants to win."

Day-Wilson, 19, led Duke in points per game (12.7), and assists per game (3.7) in her first season with the Blue Devils, but the team fell short of advancing to the NCAA tournament.

Her sophomore season begins on Monday with a visit from in-state rival North Carolina A&T.

Lawson said she expects Day-Wilson to improve just by virtue of being more settled into life as a college student, having adjusted to being away from home and juggling more difficult classes along with basketball.

Day-Wilson, though, doesn't plan to change her mindset.

"I'm not really too worried about what I did last year. It's just that it matters now. Like this is present. So it's just me staying locked in and just me keeping the same hunger," she said.

HO-Globl Jam/The Canadian Press
HO-Globl Jam/The Canadian Press

Teeming with confidence

Day-Wilson first picked up a basketball during an after-school program at the Falstaff Community Centre near the hardscrabble Jane-and-Finch intersection.

She says it was love at first dribble. Elsewhere on that court, Day-Wilson's godfather Patrick Shaw and another coach sighted that insatiable appetite — along with a heaping side of potential.

"They just came to me. They're like, 'Man, you got it.' I ended up staying in the gym 'till past my bedtime, you know? And, they just said, like, I had a good work ethic, and I didn't even have any skill at the time," Day-Wilson recalled.

It was around Grade 6 when Day-Wilson first took over a competitive game, in which she said she "gave the business" to a group of players that were finished college and playing professionally overseas.

"And then I had a game where I ended up with like 30 points. Plus it came down to the last shot," she recalled in another instance. "I'm like, yeah, I'm ready for this. It was a big moment. And I was just like, there's a lot of times in my life where that happened. So I've kind of been always ready. And I think Patrick over the years prepared me."

Shaw shared Day-Wilson's confidence. First, he enrolled her in a league with boys, which Day-Wilson — who started on her team, much to the chagrin of some parents — said only increased her conviction in her game.

When that grew stale, Shaw formed a prep team called Sisters Keeper for Day-Wilson, who also went on to play at Crestwood Preparatory College in Toronto.

"I said basketball changed my life, but [Shaw] also changed my life because he just gave me a chance and he believed in me from day one. It's like no better feeling than anyone really trying to push you to your highest potential. And he knew what I was capable of doing and I'm doing it now," Day-Wilson said.

Rapid national-team rise

Day-Wilson didn't make her national-team debut until the Under-19 World Cup in 2021, where she emphatically introduced herself by leading the team with 18.1 points and 5.7 assists per game en route to a fifth-place finish.

The outburst promptly bought Day-Wilson a spot on the U-23 team a year later. Once again, she played a key role with 19 points and nine points in the gold-medal victory over France. It was her first time playing basketball at home since before the pandemic.

Canada's U-23 head coach and senior team assistant Carly Clarke called Day-Wilson a "fun" player to work with.

"She is one of the smaller players on the floor, but you wouldn't know it. She's fierce, she's creative. And she can go create something for herself, create someone something for someone else and [she] isn't afraid of any challenge or matchup," Clarke said.

Day-Wilson didn't join the senior team during its recent fourth-place finish at the World Cup, but she may now have her sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics after getting her feet wet the past two summers.

"It was a great feeling and I'm going to look forward to doing it all over again," she said. "But it's just giving people confidence like no matter where you come from, you can make it from anywhere."

She says her ultimate goal in basketball is to play in the WNBA, to "keep doing what I love" and to "own a big house one day."

'She just wants me to be great'

For now, at Duke, she's playing alongside fellow Canadian Emma Koabel, a freshman from Port Colborne, Ont.

"That's my little sis," Day-Wilson said. "I look out for her. It's kind of like a mentor vibe. … And she's in the same position I was in last year. So it's just me just giving her a few pointers, a few motivations to just keep her going."

As point guard, Day-Wilson's biggest step in her sophomore season will be integrating the many new players Duke brought in as it seeks a return to March Madness.

The expectations from Lawson, then, have only increased.

"She's hard on me. She's really hard on me, but she just wants me to be great," Day-Wilson said.

If her recent trajectory is any indication, Day-Wilson is up for the challenge.