‘I’m just so happy’: Huskies coach Thomaidis guides Germany to first-ever Olympic hoops appearance

by Dave Deibert

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

For the fourth time in her basketball coaching career, Lisa Thomaidis is headed to the Summer Olympics. For the first time, it won’t be with Team Canada.

Less than one year after being named head coach of Germany’s women’s national program, the legendary University of Saskatchewan coach guided that country’s squad to its first-ever Olympic berth.

Exceeding virtually all expectations and wildly surpassing its current world ranking, 25th-ranked Germany defeated eighth-ranked Brazil 73-71 on Sunday at the 2024 FIBA women’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Belem, Brazil, to earn one of that tournament’s three qualifying spots. Germany finished the event with a 2-1 record.

“To earn the ticket, I’m just so happy,” a beaming Thomaidis said at the post-tournament news conference.

“We just made history. This team’s never been to the Olympics. They’re a wild bunch and I’m super proud of them. I think it was eight months ago that we were ranked 36th in the world. We’re now 25th and I’m sure this will boost us again.

“To be going to the Olympics is a massive step for this team.”

Thomaidis has been to the Olympics as an assistant coach with Team Canada in 2012 and then as head coach in the 2016 and 2020 Games. She went 83-44 overall as the national team head coach and lifted the program from No. 11 in the world rankings when she took over to No. 4.

She and Team Canada agreed to part ways following the most recent Olympic Games in Tokyo, after Canada was unexpectedly eliminated in the opening round.

Thomaidis initially joined the German program last spring on a short-term agreement, after fellow Canadian Gord Herbert — who coaches the German men’s squad — reached out.

The result for the German women’s program is historic not only on an Olympic level, but it is the first time the team has qualified on its merits for any intercontinental event. Germany previously competed in the 1998 FIBA Women’s World Cup, but qualified only as the host nation.

“They’re a lot of fun,” Thomaidis said of the German players. “They want to be great. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to be great.”

As she did when serving as Team Canada’s head coach, Thomaidis has been pulling double-duty with the German squad and her U of S team at home.

Thomaidis long ago turned the Huskies from basement-dwellers into a perennial national powerhouse, winning U Sports national championships in 2016 and 2020.

The Huskies topped the Canada West conference standings this year with a 19-1 record. They have been ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the season and are currently ranked No. 2. Canada West playoffs run Feb. 21-25 at University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C.. The U Sports national championship is scheduled for March 7-10 at University of Alberta in Edmonton.

The women’s Olympic basketball tournament runs from July 29-August 11 in Paris. The full list of 12 teams — finalized on the weekend at various qualifying tournaments — includes Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, Serbia, Spain and the United States.

The Canadian team, currently ranked fifth in the world, needed help to earn its ticket to Paris after losing 86-82 to Japan on Sunday and dropping to 1-2 at the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament in Hungary.

With three teams qualifying from that four-team tournament, Canada advanced thanks to fourth-ranked Spain’s dramatic 73-72 comeback win over 19th-ranked Hungary.

The appearance in Paris will be the Canadians’ fourth Olympic berth in a row. It is the first time since 2000 that both the women’s and men’s national teams have qualified for the Games.