In a small, dingy-looking gym in Virginia, Laeticia Amihere came out of nowhere to intercept a pass and streaked like lightning toward the basket.
Her long, quick strides left all five defenders in the dust, carrying her over half court and to the hoop in just five steps, with no trailers in sight.
She dunked the ball emphatically, effortlessly, like she had in practice many times before. Amihere was just 15 years old at the time, a promising six-foot-three prospect from Mississauga, Ont., playing in a run-of-the-mill AAU tournament.
And while that play changed her life — made her internet famous overnight, and placed her in the history books as the first Canadian woman known to have dunked in a game — it seems perfunctory now.
An interesting footnote in a story with countless more compelling details.
By the time Amihere returned to high school at King’s Christian Collegiate in Oakville that year, it was as if nothing had happened.
Well OK, something had clearly happened. Drake apparently followed her on social media; she fielded interview requests from every conceivable news outlet.
She dunked for TV cameras in empty gyms, over and over again.
But it was also clear Amihere did not want to be remembered as a novelty.
Her goal was still to become a well-rounded player, to pair her athleticism with the kinds of fundamentals that would take her far beyond the world of viral videos.
“It didn’t really affect her,” said Eric Bulthuis, who coached Amihere at King’s in grades 9 and 10 and now works as the school’s athletic director.
“I think it was probably a bigger deal for other people. She knew she could do it; she’d done it many times, and it was cool for her. But it’s not like she got propelled into a different stratosphere.
“She was still the same person.”
Laeticia Amihere is more than a dunker
Amihere arrived at King’s with plenty of size and speed, a natural athlete who excelled in track and field as well as basketball.
Her game was raw, but she stood out. Bulthuis saw her as a once-in-a-generation talent in the program he was trying to build at the still-relatively-new private school in a Toronto suburb.
“The way she carried herself, the way she worked, her aspirations, were just a step above what I had experienced before,” said Bulthuis, who had a decorated playing career at Redeemer University College from 2004 to 2010 and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame.
“Everything about her was just a little bit different,” he said. “One of the things that struck me was, she really knew what she wanted. She was driven to where she wanted to go, what she wanted to do.
“She wanted to pursue basketball at a very high level, and was willing to do whatever it took to achieve that. Her level of motivation and drive was unique.”
He recalls Amihere speaking from her earliest high school days about playing for a major NCAA program, potentially going pro. She also wanted to play for Team Canada, no matter what other commitments she had to juggle to make it work.
“Her athleticism was something you can’t teach,” Bulthuis said. “She developed her shooting ability, she developed her passing ability. Watching her now, I still see the same girl, in a lot of ways, when she was in Grade 9 — getting the rebound, leading the fast break, that kind of stuff.
“That’s something she’s been doing for eight, 10 years and it’s still done at a level that very few people in the world can do … it’s special.”
Laeticia Amihere, NCAA champion
After the dunk seen round the world, there was talk of Amihere as the next big thing in Canadian basketball. Outlets like Vice, ESPN and Sports Illustrated took notice.
When it was time to pick a college, she chose the University of South Carolina, an eventual powerhouse that won a national championship in 2022 under coach Dawn Staley and made a compelling run to the Final Four this past March.
Amihere accepted a smaller role at South Carolina than she might have enjoyed elsewhere, sacrificing scoring and stats to help her team win.
This past season, she was part of a second unit that deferred to the Gamecocks’ bigger stars, including presumptive No. 1-overall WNBA pick Aliyah Boston and multifaceted wing Brea Beal.
“I haven’t been able to show more of my offensive tools at South Carolina,” Amihere told the Canadian Press. “So I’m just excited to show a little bit more of that, just, you know, my mid-range game and being able to score on three levels.”
As the WNBA Draft approaches on April 10, Amihere is projected as a top-10 pick, with ESPN listing her at No. 8 in its most recent mock draft.
“She’s still sort of defining maybe who she’s going to be as a player,” Minnesota Lynx coach and executive Cheryl Reeve told ESPN.com
“But at minimum, I’ve seen her change games with her ability to be aggressive. She has no fear. She’s ambitious in the way that she chooses to attack defenders and has a natural confidence there.”
Perhaps more than anything else, Amihere has proven she’s a winner.
“We were in an environment of winners [at South Carolina],” Amihere told CP. “We had the top coach, she was very competitive. We had all my teammates, [who] just their will to win was so high and no matter where I’m drafted, I’ll carry that with me because it’s very rare.”
If Amihere is selected in the first round, she will become the highest Canadian WNBA pick since Kia Nurse (Hamilton, Ont.) went 10th overall to the New York Liberty in 2018.
WNBA ready to call Amihere’s number
Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ont.) was selected at No. 9 by the Indiana Fever in 2014. Bridget Carleton (Chatham, Ont.), the only other Canadian in the WNBA, was a second-round pick at 21st overall in 2019.
Amihere may well still be the next big thing in Canadian basketball.
At age 21, it’s a mantle she’s already carried for years. In high school, observers said she embraced it. In college, it didn’t really matter.
The same will be true if Amihere finds a meaningful role in the WNBA. This is what she’s worked for, what she envisioned from her earliest days of competitive basketball.
You don’t get here by thinking much about your own hype. You get here by winning.
“It was very clear, when she was here … that she was going to do great things,” said Eric Bulthuis from King’s Christian.
“She’s proven that with hard work, a lot can be achieved,” he said. “[She’s] a great example for young girls coming up. Anything can be possible if you work hard.”