TORONTO — The WNBA’s first-ever game in Canada is a full-circle moment for Bridget Carleton.
The Chatham, Ontario, native will be suiting up for the Minnesota Lynx in a preseason game Saturday against the Chicago Sky at Scotiabank Arena.
“I think growing up, I never really even dreamed about playing in the WNBA,” the 25-year-old Carleton told The Canadian Press. “I didn’t think I was going to be that good, I think because I knew it was such a small league and only the best of the best, so I was always just kind of focused on college and Team Canada and the Olympics.
“A lot of people still live in Toronto who have helped me get to where I am and they always believed in me. ... So a huge credit to them for seeing things in me that I didn’t see and to get me to where I am today and (it) kind of comes full circle.”
Carleton returned to Minnesota on Monday after playing for Perfumerias Avenida in Spain.
Perfumerias was swept by Valencia in the best-of-three league final, losing 81-69 in Game 2 on Sunday. Had the team forced a Game 3 on Thursday, Carleton would have had to fly to Toronto from Spain on Friday.
“It’s been a lot. Obviously just an exciting time, but also exhausting,” she said. “So I’m glad it all worked out. I can get a couple of practices in before the Canada game, but yeah, it’s been kind of like one day at a time.”
Carleton was a free agent when the WNBA announced the Toronto game on Jan. 18. The league's regular season begins on May 19.
“I was just excited in general that the WNBA was going to experience Canada and that the Canadians were going to experience the WNBA,” she said. “So two of my worlds colliding.
“And then when I re-signed in Minnesota during free agency, obviously that’s when it settled in like, ‘OK, I’m playing in this game. That’s pretty surreal.’”
Talk surrounding a potential WNBA expansion team in Toronto has carried on for some years now. Carleton believes expansion is overdue.
“It’s only 12 teams, 12 roster spots, and oftentimes less than that because teams only keep 11 players,” she said. “And there’s way more talent out there that deserves to be in this league. I think Toronto is a great market for it. I think this weekend, you know, selling out Scotiabank Arena ... the numbers are proving that people are excited about basketball.”
Carleton’s teammate Kayla McBride said she was shocked by the excitement for the preseason game.
“Because for me, growing up in America, I knew the Raptors and I knew that they got the hype and watching the finals and seeing how packed the arena was,” McBride said Friday.
“I’m really, really excited to actually be in the arena (Saturday) and feel the energy.”