Canada’s Bridget Carleton using breakout WNBA season as stepping stone to Olympics


Like any good Canadian, Bridget Carleton is catching up on Schitt’s Creek.

The 24-year-old Minnesota Lynx guard/forward returned home from the WNBA bubble after her team was eliminated by the eventual champion Seattle Storm in the semifinals in late September.

During her subsequent two-week quarantine in Chatham, Ont., she spent time catching up on the Emmy Award-winning CBC show, while also perfecting her basement workout routine and watching basketball while it was on.

“[It] feels like I’m in the bubble again. Just a different bubble,” Carleton said.

At the beginning of her time in Bradenton, Fla., Carleton noted that the biggest adjustment to the bubble was the Florida heat. That never ceased as a challenge.

“I was looking forward to coming back to Canada because I knew it was going to be cooler here. And I was excited for the fall weather, which I don’t think I’ve ever said before. It was so hot down there. I did not get used to it,” Carleton said.

Carleton played an integral role for the Lynx this season. Relegated to the bench for the first few games, injuries presented the opportunity to play.

The Canadian wound up starting the final 12 games of the regular season, and three of four playoff games.

“My team always had confidence in me, but I kind of proved to myself that I deserve to be at that level. I think that was the biggest takeaway and what I learned and got from that season,” Carleton said.

Known for her shooting and basketball IQ, Carleton excelled on both fronts with the Lynx with a 45.7 three-point shooting percentage and 2.5 assists per game to just 1.2 turnovers. She was even tasked with guarding Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi down the stretch in a one-game playoff, which the Lynx won.

Carleton’s breakout game came in her first start, when she scored 25 points while shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. But the Canadian’s versatility shone through as her role stabilized: in one win against Los Angeles, Carleton was held scoreless but dished 10 assists.

WATCH | Carleton explodes for 25 points in Lynx win:

Canadian Bridget Carleton made the most of her first WNBA start. The Chatham, Ont. native had a career-high 25 points in the Minnesota Lynx 92-66 rout of the New York Liberty. 4:24

Carleton says she drew on her experience with the national team, where she’s gradually earned more and more responsibility, to help her transition to the Lynx starting lineup.

“I’ve learned that every role is important. And whatever role you’re given, you have to not be satisfied, but be okay with it. Work to the role you want, but be the best in the role you have. So I think that’s what the mindset has been throughout my whole career,” Carleton said.

Kayla Alexander is a teammate of Carleton’s on the Lynx and on the national team. During the regular season, the two roomed together, which Alexander indicated was a treat.

“[Carleton] has a great sense of humour, funny, very sociable, easy-going, always cooking healthy meals,” Alexander said, adding she knew Carleton’s game from Team Canada, but one thing stood out.

“Just how versatile she is, how she can guard like a number of positions, play a number of positions. To see her play on another level, it was fun to watch.”

Strength in versatility

Versatility was something Carleton learned at a young age, when her parents put her and two sisters into multiple sports. Her first dip into basketball was when she tried out for the Grade 4 team in Grade 3 because she was “huge at that age.”

“I just remember being at that practice, not knowing anyone, just having fun and playing really well and being really good and like, ‘Oh, like this I’m actually pretty good. That was fun and I’m actually good. This might work,'” Carleton said.

Basketball was in Carleton’s blood. Her mother played for Team Ontario in high school and university, eventually earning enshrinement in the Chatham Hall of Fame.

While starring at Iowa State in 2016, Carleton joined Team Canada for the first time for some practices ahead of the Rio Olympics. Carleton didn’t go to Brazil, but she did participate at the 2018 World Cup.

Carleton’s first real minutes with the senior national team didn’t come until February’s Olympic qualifiers, where the team went 3-0 to book its ticket to Tokyo. Carleton started all three games.

“I think [the 2016 practices] was my first experience with professionals and realizing, like, if I want to achieve my goals of being on the Olympic team one day, professional basketball comes with that,” Carleton said.

Carleton, right, protects the ball from Las Vegas Aces guard Danielle Robinson during a September game. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/The Associated Press)

WNBA combatant and fellow Canadian Kia Nurse has played with Carleton for nearly a decade now — including on past Team Ontario squads. She says Carleton could be a mainstay in the league for years to come.

“I think she’s poised. She’s super smart. She has great size at the guard position, and she’s just a hard worker. She’s gritty, and she’s going to do all the little things that might not show up on the stat sheet. And she makes her team that much better for it,” Nurse said.

For now, Carleton is waiting out her quarantine in anticipation of her sister’s wedding. She’ll head to France, where she signed on to pay with Landerneau Bretagne Basket of the top French league, on Sunday.

Six other Canadians play in France, including veteran Kim Gaucher who is stationed in Mondeville.

‘I think she’s going to have another breakout year’

Gaucher says that as Carleton has become more comfortable on the court, she’s become more of a force to be reckoned with.

“I think she’s going to have another breakout year in Tokyo. I think she’s going to be a cornerstone. I think she’s going to play for a really long time,” Gaucher said.

Gaucher and a number of other national teammates all said Carleton’s biggest strengths were her shooting and her intelligence.

Nurse pointed to Carleton’s toughness as a top asset.

“I think the toughest part about playing against Canada for any team in the world is that our defence is always really annoying. We like to annoy our opponents. We’re kind of pests in that sense. And it’s tough to play against us because we do the little nitty gritty stuff and [Carleton’s] perfect for doing that,” Nurse said.

For her part, Carleton just wants to be dependable.

“I’m going to take the right shot. I’m going to defend my players and not make any mistakes. It’s just reliable and consistent and someone you can count on on the court,” she said.

Carleton’s shown a knack for doing just that, dating back to Iowa State and perhaps even Grade 3. She’ll be a restricted free agent, with Minnesota holding her rights, when the WNBA signing period opens in February.

Another successful WNBA season would affirm her status in the league and set her on the path to Tokyo.

“Playing for [the national] team has always been my number one dream, number one goal.”

Read more at CBC.ca