STORRS, Conn. -- Kia Nurse was born not only into a family of athletes, but competitors.
"If you ever sat at the dinner table in the Nurse household you would think that all of us were insane," the University of Connecticut women's basketball team's senior guard said.
But if there's a discussion of the most competitive players to come through coach Geno Auriemma's program, Nurse's name would be prominent. And it's doubtful that Auriemma has ever asked the Hamilton, Ontario. Canada native for extra effort because she has been invested 100 percent since day one.
UConn's thank you for her efforts comes Friday night. The top-ranked Huskies have traveled to Toronto -- about an hour from Hamilton -- to take on Duquesne in a homecoming game for Canadian Olympian Nurse at the sold-out Mattamy Athletic Centre (SNY, 7 p.m.).
"It's awesome. It's an incredible facility," Nurse said. "Ryerson University and their coach has done a tremendous amount of work to try and make it something special and Canada Basketball is in on it as well. I'm excited to see my family and friends that will come out to support me. But I'm also excited for the kids that will come that get to see UConn play in person."
Among her family expected to be at the game are her father Richard, who played football in the CFL for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, mother Kathy, who played college basketball at McMaster in Canada, and older sister Tamika, who started her college career at Oregon before finishing and graduating from Bowling Green. Her older brother Darnell will not be able to make it as the NHL defenseman will be in Edmonton as he and the Oilers host the St. Louis Blues.
The friends will include a crowd of 2,500, which is capacity for the basketball arena in the old building once called Maple Leaf Gardens and the site of one Nurse's greatest triumphs when she led Team Canada to the gold medal -- its first -- at the 2015 Pan American Games.
"When I go back home I always get such a warm welcome, and Hamilton is essentially a hotbed for basketball within Ontario," Nurse said. "To go home and see everyone and to be in a place where there is a Tim Horton's, I'm excited for that. I think the reaction from the people at home has been amazing. They keep messaging me about how excited they are for me to come play there."
She returns to the area where she got her start playing basketball on a team coached by her father.
"That was an interesting dynamic on some days," Nurse said. "Practice was hard and I always thought he was really tough on me. But it helped make me what I am today and made me understand the work ethic needed to get here and be successful.
"With my family there was a very good balance of competitive nature and support. When you go through it and you're the last one to come out of a family that has accomplished so much on their own, having the ability to be a phone call away from someone that's gone through what you're going through has been beyond beneficial for me."
Her sister, who is nine years older, was her role model growing up. Her admiration for her brother, who is 12 months older, grew through the years as he made his way up the ranks of youth hockey in Canada en route to becoming the first-round pick (seventh overall) by the Oilers in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Her growth as a player and person has been a total family affair.
"My sister always had the attitude that every time she walked into the gym, you thought there was no one that was going to stop her that day and she thought the same thing," Nurse said. "She had a competitive mentality and winner's attitude of, 'I'm going to do everything I can to help my team win today.' I always looked up to that and wanted that."
"My brother was always absolutely incredible. He would be on the ice twice a day, in the gym twice a day, and he never looked tired. He took care of himself and his body. To see him achieving his dreams right now, the way he holds himself and the way he carries himself on a day-to-day basis is incredible. He's a better person than a hockey player and that says a lot for him.
"My mom is competitive, but I think the IQ part comes from her. My dad is straight toughness, in your face and, 'I'll get you to do whatever is needed to work hard.' There's a competitive edge from them like, 'Someone is going to catch up to you if you don't keep working, so compete.'"
Nurse went to high school at St. Thomas More Catholic and caught the attention of Canada Basketball. At 15, she debuted for Team Canada at the 2011 FIBA Americas U-16 Championships and took part in the 2012 FIBA U-17 world championships a year later. She was 17 when she took part in an exhibition tour for the senior national team.
And it was in that summer of 2013 that the Huskies' coaching staff found her, though Nurse had written on a seventh-grade "dream chart" that she wanted to go to UConn.
"I was down to a short list by the time they recruited me and I with our senior national team for the first time," Nurse said. "My dad called me and asked if I wanted to play in a tournament in Washington when I got home. I told him I wasn't sure about that but he said, 'Your friends are playing.' OK, let's go. So we went out there and played and that is when UConn saw me. They called and a couple of other schools called so I thought, 'I have to give them a chance because their track record speaks for itself.' The Olympics was a big goal of mine and they produce Olympians. That was big, too.
"UConn was my third official visit and I had five planned. I cancelled the last two after I left here. It was down to those three. I loved it here, the campus, coaches, and players."
She quickly connected with Auriemma, who, the previous summer, had coached the United States to Olympic gold in London.
"I think I was scared of him back when I was being recruited," Nurse said with a laugh. "I wasn't big into the process because I didn't like all the attention and all that fun stuff around it. But hearing what he had to say and hearing how genuine he was, that was a big thing for me when he came on the home visit.
"He is always honest with you and is somebody that has an open-door policy. That was the vibe I got from him. He genuinely cares about developing you not only as a player but as a person. The life lessons he would teach us on the court would translate to things that would help us in life."
Friday night's game will be her 120th played (she missed four a season ago with an ankle injury) at UConn. The Huskies' record since her arrival is 121-2 with two national championships, three Final Four appearances, and three American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles.
A year ago, she reached the 1,000-point plateau and this season set a school record by making 12 consecutive 3-point shots. Through nine games she is averaging 15.6 points on 57.1 percent shooting from the floor and 54.3 percent from 3-point land, all career bests.
"I have grown so much here as a player and a person, and I'm going home to show them a very different player than the one who played in high school," Nurse said. "All those people who saw me in high school are going to be really confused."
But they'll remember what she did at the Mattamy Athletic Centre on July 20, 2015.
Nurse torched a United States team led by her UConn teammates Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson for 33 points in an 81-73 win in the Pan American Games final. The Summer of Kia continued a month later when she led the Canadians to the gold medal and was the Most Valuable Player of the FIBA Americas tournament in Edmonton, a victory that gave Team Canada its berth in the 2016 Olympic Games.
Her trip with the Huskies is her first back to Mattamy Athletic Centre since that magic night.
"So much happened that summer," Nurse said with a smile. "For the first time, people in Canada were talking about women's basketball. It was in the headlines, on social media. People were interested in us. For so long it had been all about men's basketball with Steve Nash and Anthony Wiggins coming up and Jamal Murray. Now there was talk, 'Who's coming up with the women's team?' Once the Pan Am Games happened, all these little girls saw what Canada Basketball was and they could dream to be a part of it. Older people came out and said they needed to pay attention to us."
UConn (9-0) is coming off an 88-64 victory over Oklahoma Tuesday night that gave Auriemma his 1,000th win. Nurse, who had joked before the game she would play well against the Sooners so that Auriemma's milestone wouldn't wait until her homecoming night, was one of four players in double figures with 17 points while putting forth a solid performance at the defensive end. Freshman Megan Walker, who missed the Oklahoma game with the flu, practiced Thursday and should be available Friday night.
Duquesne (10-2) has won eight in a row and was a perfect partner for the Huskies to face. The Dukes feature their own Hamilton native in sophomore guard Halle Bovell. But Bovell has not played this season and may redshirt.
The teams last met in the 2016 NCAA tournament with UConn routing Duquesne 97-51 in a second-round game at Gampel Pavilion.