Even after eight seasons of playing pro in Spain and France, Shona Thorburn still knows the way to the Westdale gymnasium.
Even after five star seasons with the University of Utah followed by two seasons in the WNBA with Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm, she still recalls that it was late Hamilton Spectator sportswriter Jeff Dickins who gave her Sho-time as a nickname.
And as she returns to the Golden Horseshoe this week for her first meaningful game in some 15 years here, Thorburn, who turns 33 on Aug. 7, still knows and appreciates the fact the Hamilton Transway was where it all started for her at age 11.
Thorburn is expected to see plenty of action — the whole Canadian team will — when Canada's Pan Am women's squad opens the tournament Thursday at 6 p.m. against Venezuela at the Mattamy Recreation Centre.
Canada will also face Argentina and Cuba on Friday and Saturday, respectively, in a bid to claim a semifinal match Sunday. The final is set for Monday at 8:45 p.m.
After a practice this week, Thorburn talked about coming home to play in front of what is expected to be carloads of fans from Hamilton.
"We've had training in the Toronto area but we haven't had any games. I remember going to Hamilton in 1995 and watching the Olympic qualifier, and I was a kid then. That's how huge it is to be this close," she said.
The last meaningful game she played in these parts was likely in 1999 when the Westdale Warriors captured the OFSAA bronze. Thorburn was an OAC student.
"This is enormous. I have friends writing me up on Facebook saying, 'I'm coming.' People I played with when I was 16 or 17 who I haven't really talked to … my mom might run into them because still lives there and they say, 'We're going to watch Shona.'
"It's memorable. We haven't even started yet, we haven't even played and I know so many people who are coming to watch me. It's awesome."
"I'm proud to represent Hamilton and Canada here in Toronto."
Thorburn will have her cheering section. But another large contingent from Hamilton will be making the trip to cheer on NCAA champion Kia Nurse. Rounding out the Pan-Ham contingent are head coach Lisa Thomaidis, a former Marauder, team manager and current McMaster assistant Ann Marie Thuss, and alternate and Glendale grad Saicha Grant-Allen.
Thorburn remembers Transway fondly.
"It was an opportunity for me to play competitively starting at the age of 11. I know there are other programs that are more advanced but Transway was the one program that we had back then. If it wasn't for Transway, I wouldn't have had anything else during the school year other than school basketball. It was huge."
Thorburn doesn't get to the hometown often. When she does, she is grateful that McMaster lets her work out there. And she runs into people. And remembers what being from the Head of the Lake is all about.
"People run into me and say, 'It's Shona.' I have no idea who they are but they have heard of me. It's cool. You feel good about yourself afterwards."
And she recalls Spectator sportswriter Dickins, who died in May 2003 at the age of 48, fondly.
"I definitely remember him. He was a big fan of mine. He followed my career at high school then off to university. He always use to give me a shout-out during the year."
Thorburn said Team Canada will gun for gold. But the bigger goal will be to clinch an Olympic berth at the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament in Edmonton Aug. 9-16. Canada must finish first or second to Brazil to earn a spot in Rio.