Basketball

How Gamecocks’ Laeticia Amihere is preparing for her Olympic debut

This stands as a capstone moment of sorts for Laeticia Amihere.

Playing basketball for her native country of Canada took her international, to Mexico, when she was just 13. The South Carolina women’s basketball sophomore was part of national teams from 2015 on.

In many ways, those experiences, playing against some of the world’s best, shaped and molded the towering presence who was the Gamecocks’ No. 3 rebounder and No. 6 scorer last season.

Soon enough, she’ll take the final step, earn the title so many seek: Olympian.

“It’s kind of unique in Canada,” Amihere said. “They target you at a young age. It really helps you develop your game and kind of see the international play as well.”

The 6-foot-4 Gamecocks forward, who was able to dunk at age 15, will be a part of the Canadian national team for the summer Olympics in late July in Tokyo. It’s an adventure and an honor, something that puts her in a rarefied air in South Carolina’s already decorated program.

When she plays, Amihere will join the likes of Shannon Johnson, Ilona Burgrova and Iva Sliskovic, who went from Columbia to the world stage before her.

“It’s just been a blessing,” Amihere said. “When you go to this type of level, it’s something you prepare for on a four-year cycle. So it’s something that I’ve not only prepared this year for but since I’ve been in high school.”

Dawn Staley, Amihere’s college coach, won three Olympic gold medals as a player and is now the coach for the United States. Staley’s Team USA roster includes Gamecock legend A’ja Wilson. The pool play arrangement means the United States and the Canadians won’t face off until potentially the quarterfinals, should both teams reach that point in early August.

Amihere said this week she only traded congratulatory messages with her coach, with no talk of seeing each other on the court. Amihere was frankly more concerned with seeing another part of the U.S. national team.

It would be huge to play against Team USA, not only just because of coach Staley, but those are the best players in the world I’d be able to compete against,” Amihere said. “WNBA All-Stars one through 12. It would be huge for my game.”

There’s some hope she can bring something back from Japan. Just as her time with Team Canada built the star player she was to this point, facing some of the world’s best can offer the chance to sharpen her skills even further.

Last season was the Ontario product’s second with the Gamecocks, after a torn ACL ended her high school career early. She played the role of top reserve, alternating as backup to All-American center Aliyah Boston and playing alongside her at times.

Next season there will be even more competition at that forward-center spot, as every player returns and 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso transferred in from Syracuse.

But that competition is a ways off, and Amihere has something important coming up soon in Japan. And although it’s another chance to build her basketball skills with some of the folks that built her as a player, it’s also a different kind of adventure, not unlike that first trip to Mexico all those years ago.

“I’m excited to be inside the village,” Amihere said. “I’ve heard so many great things about what the village looks like. I’ve been watching a lot of videos. I’m just really keying on it, very excited.

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