Jordin Canada taking sweetness across town
Time was ticking away in a California state playoff game earlier this month between two of the nation's top basketball teams.
Canada hit the floor. Hard.
Samuelson offered a hand to help Canada up, but Windward's Kristen Simon came rushing over. Simon, protecting her teammate, pushed Samuelson's hand aside in a tense moment.
What happened next was extraordinary.
"Jordin waved [Simon] off, put Samuelson's hand back on hers and accepted her help getting back up," Windward coach Vanessa Nygaard said. "Here it was, this intense game, and Jordin wanted to make sure that this girl was not offended."
Canada, the No. 2 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2014 class, said she was just being herself.
"My personality is to be humble," said the 5-foot-6 Canada, who committed to UCLA earlier this week. "I never want to be rude or downgrade another player. There might be little kids watching us play, and I want to be a leader.
"On that play, they were trying to foul. I don't think [Samuelson] meant to foul me that hard. After she knocked me down, she wanted to help me up, so I let her do that."
Don't mistake Canada's sweetness for weakness, however.
She's a killer on the court, and she showed it against a Mater Dei team that came in with a 30-1 record. Canada finished with 17 points and 14 assists. Samuelson, who had 23 points, was given the sportsmanship award.
It's no wonder some Windward students have taken to singing a well-known national anthem -- "O Canada" -- as a salute to her dazzling basketball abilities.
Canada is already on the Team USA radar. In 2011, she helped lead USA Basketball's U16 team to a 5-0 record and a gold medal at the FIBA Americas zone qualifier in Merida, Mexico.
Nygaard, who played at Stanford and also had a pro career in Europe and the WNBA, was a Windward assistant coach when Canada joined the program for her freshman season.
Canada was an immediate starter but had not yet become much of a 3-point threat, averaging less than one attempt from that distance all season heading into the state final.
With less than a minute left and the score tied against St. Mary's (Albany, Calif.), Windward's coaches drew up a play designed to get a shot for 6-foot-7 post player Imani McGee-Stafford, now at the University of Texas.
"All five of our players touched the ball on that possession," Nygaard said. "Any one of them could have taken that shot. There was a lot of pressure. But Jordin -- she's a gamer."
As you might have guessed by now, Canada hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 47 seconds left to lead Windward to a 51-47 win and its first state title.
"You hate to compare it to Michael Jordan when he hit that shot as a freshman for North Carolina, but it was that kind of play," Nygaard said. "She was just born to play basketball."
The biggest key to Canada's success is probably her ballhandling skills.
"My middle school coach told me if I wanted to be a point guard, I had to take care of the ball," Canada said. "I've just worked on it ever since."
In the women’s game, you don’t often see elite ballhandlers like her -- I don’t know why. That’s what really sets her apart.Former WNBA player Vanessa Nygaard, on Jordin Canada
Nygaard said Canada has great speed and quickness, and her first step creates immediate separation. Plus, she finishes exceptionally well at the basket.
But oh, that handle …
"In the women's game, you don't often see elite ballhandlers like her -- I don't know why," the coach said. "That's what really sets her apart. She can go in any direction and has a great feel -- like a Chris Paul [in the NBA.]"
As a freshman, Canada averaged 12.5 points and led her 29-4 team in assists (5.0) and steals (3.4).
As a sophomore, she averaged 11.5 points and again led in assists (5.3) and steals (3.2) for a 29-5 team.
This past season, she averaged career-highs across the board -- 17 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds -- for a 32-1 team that was ranked fifth in the nation in the final espnW 25 Power Rankings.
But as good as she is on the court -- and Nygaard believes she can one day be an Olympian -- Canada is even better as a person, her coach said.
Canada considers herself a shy girl. Besides basketball, she loves to sing R&B music. She also loves babies and wants to be a nurse so she can take care of sick kids.
Windward shooting guard Courtney Jaco has known Canada for close to a decade. As kids, they always played on rival club teams, and Jaco admired Canada's ballhandling skills -- even then.
"Whenever we'd play, I was always excited because I knew it would be a great matchup," Jaco said. "A lot of people would come to those games. Fans would get into fights -- not physical altercations, but a lot of trash talk. We were 10 years old. It was ridiculous."
Canada, ever the good sport, stayed above the fray, and both she and Jaco were overjoyed when they finally became teammates two years ago.
But now that Jaco has signed to play for Southern Cal next season, their days as teammates are over.
That's OK, though. Canada is an expert at separating competition from camaraderie.
She's so nice, in fact, that she can't even work up a good hate for USC -- UCLA's sworn enemy.
"I love USC. I don't think I will ever dislike that school," Canada said. "I love Courtney, too. It will be fun playing against her again."