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ND Women’s Basketball: Achonwa returns from FIBA championships

Laura Myers | Monday, October 11, 2010

Natalie Achonwa is done missing things at Notre Dame.

The freshman forward had a good reason to be away from campus: she spent most of September playing for Team Canada in the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women in the Czech Republic.

Achonwa, 17, was the youngest player on her team and one of only three NCAA players at the tournament. She played in all eight of Canada’s games and was fourth on her team with an average of 4.6 points per game and third with 3.9 assists per game.

Achonwa returned to Notre Dame Monday night, and got back to work quickly. In fact, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said, the coaches couldn’t keep her away.

“She got back Monday night late, came to the 7 a.m. workout Tuesday morning, came back in the afternoon for a post workout, came in Wednesday to shoot,” McGraw said. “I mean, we’re excited that she’s got that interest, but she really needs to rest.”

Achonwa did not work out with the Irish over the summer because she was playing with Team Canada, so she has not been able to spend very much time at all working with her teammates.

“As much as I enjoyed the summer and as much as I loved playing for Team Canada, you miss out on things and I’m just trying to get with them as much as I can,” she said. “[The coaches] kept me out of the gym for Monday, but not after that.”

Fortunately, Achonwa’s arrival coincided well with Notre Dame’s practice schedule. The team held its first official practice Thursday.

“It went pretty well, actually,” Achonwa said. “Our offense we run is based on contact, and we run the same with the Canadian team. So offensively, it’s not that different.”

Achonwa had to leave practice early to take an exam, and has four more scheduled for this week. Missing so much class was actually a great introduction to Notre Dame, she said.

“The people at Notre Dame are indescribable,” she said. “Academic advisors, tutors, coaches. There’s an unlimited amount of people who are willing to help you.”

In fact, Achonwa, a native of Guelph, Ontario, missed just one event that can’t be made up — last weekend’s pre-season hockey game between Notre Dame and Guelph.

“I thought they were coming this weekend,” she said. “I probably know some of the players.”

But the tournament itself allowed Achonwa to prepare for the collegiate season in many ways, including watching — and playing against — team USA, the eventual champions. The team is coached by Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma and is comprised of star WNBA players and one collegiate star, Connecticut senior Maya Moore.

“I learned a lot from playing with, playing against and just watching the game and observing,” Achonwa said. “We played against and with the best players in the world. You can’t put a value on just watching Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles. You just pick up little details.”

Notre Dame will face Auriemma’s Huskies twice during the regular season and could see them again in the Big East or NCAA Tournament.

“I didn’t get to talk to him, but he seems like a very intense coach. He likes to win. He holds a good team together,” Achonwa said. “It made me excited to get a preview of playing him and Maya Moore and UConn this season.

“As much as I love team Canada, I can’t wait for our season to begin. I’m very competitive.”