By Jeff Griesch
Nebraska Media Relations/Huskers.com
Former Husker Chelsea Aubry's road to the Olympics was a long, winding road, filled with ups, downs, disappointment, near-misses and eventually, the thrill and satisfaction of victory well-earned.
The 6-2 forward from Kitchener, Ontario, opened the month of July by helping her Canadian National Team qualify for the 2012 Olympics - on Canada Day (July 1) - thousands of miles from home in Ankara, Turkey.
The conquering hero, Aubry has returned to her parents' home in Ontario for a couple weeks following Olympic qualification. The Canadians will return to training on July 17 in Toronto before departing for the United Kingdom on July 20 for some exhibition games, before opening the Olympics on July 28. When she takes the court in London, she will fulfill a dream nearly a lifetime in the making, while coincidentally becoming the first Husker women's basketball player in history to compete in the Olympics.
Aubry played 123 games at Nebraska, before embarking on a professional career for the last four seasons, first in Slovakia and then the past three years with the Bendigo Spirit in Australia. While playing at Nebraska and professionally around the world, Aubry has also spent many years in the Canadian National Team program.
Aubry, who was one of Coach Connie Yori's first recruits at Nebraska, played with an infectious enthusiasm and a rugged toughness from 2003-04 through 2006-07 for the Huskers.
"Coach Yori and everybody at Nebraska were always so great to me," Aubry said. "The team and the academic advisors and professors helped me pursue my Olympic goals way back then, when I would have to show up for classes six weeks late because I was with the National Team. I know players from all around the world who played at other schools, and their coaches wouldn't let them go back. The kind of support we get at Nebraska is kind of unheard of."
Aubry brought a defensive intensity and overall intelligence to the court for the Big Red of Nebraska that has carried over to her time wearing the red and white of Team Canada.
Aubry rarely led Nebraska in scoring. She was never a prolific offensive player, although she finished her career with nearly 900 points and more than 500 rebounds. She was extremely versatile with the ability to knock down the three, score on the block, hit a mid-range jumper and drive to the basket.
She did all the little things that help teams win. She set terrific screens, moved well without the ball and was a tremendous communicator on and off the court. By the time her career ended, she was the leader of the team that got Nebraska back to the NCAA Tournament in 2007. It was a team that included three-time first-team All-Big 12 guard and fellow senior Kiera Hardy, who scored nearly 2,000 points in her Husker career. That Husker team also included sophomore Kelsey Griffin, who finished her career with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds as a first-team All-American in 2010. Aubry's senior season marked the first time that the Huskers had qualified for the Big Dance since 2000.
Aubry bought into Coach Yori's philosophy about defense and hard work and fundamentals. She didn't choose Nebraska because it was the easiest choice. Afterall, the Huskers were coming off an 8-20 season in 2002-03. In fact, in some ways, she chose Nebraska because she knew it wouldn't be easy.
Aubry's life, basketball career and recent Canadian National Team success, has been more about the long road or the journey, rather than the easy road.
"We're Canadian. We have to make everything as difficult as possible," Aubry said. "We don't want to do it the easy way. We want to make things as hard as possible on ourselves, because then it seems more rewarding at the end."
Team Canada was the last women's basketball team to qualify for the Olympics. The Canadians could have clinched a spot with a win over Croatia in the final qualifying tournament last week in Turkey. Instead, Team Canada suffered a narrow loss to Croatia and was forced to win two more games to get to London.
"I'm not going to lie, everybody was really down after we lost to Croatia," Aubry said. "We were so close to our dreams, and then we came up short. The next day, everybody was really, really down. But my role on the team is to kind of get everybody back up again. That's the way I've always been. I don't play 40 minutes a game for Canada, and I don't score a lot of points. I'm the one who shows up for breakfast the next morning after we lose to Croatia for a chance to go to the Olympics and acts like I'm happy, so we can pick people up and get us moving in the right direction again. We didn't have time to worry about missing our chance. We still had another chance to get there, and luckily we didn't let it slip away again."
Canada punched its ticket to London by beating Argentina and Japan in back-to-back games to qualify. When Aubry arrives with the Canadian National Team in London in late-July, it will be a life-long dream realized. Her journey has included four years in Nebraska as a player, then one additional year in Lincoln to complete her degree while trying to help the Canadians qualify for the 2008 Olympics. Aubry earned her bachelor's degree, but Canada came up short in qualifying.
She began her professional career in Slovakia during the 2008-09 season. A great "learning experience," according to Aubry. A year in which she learned how difficult life can be in professional women's basketball.
After a year in Slovakia, she continued training with the Canadian National Team in pursuit of a 2012 Olympic berth, while joining the Bendigo Spirit in Australia.
Life and basketball in Australia has been a great fit for Aubry the past three years.
"I love Australia. I play with one of the best point guards in the world, Kristi Harrower, who is from Bendigo. She makes playing basketball so much fun, because she is probably the smartest player in the world. She does the thinking for everybody," Aubry said. "And I met my boyfriend there, and our relationship is great, so that has made Australia a great place to be for me when I'm not in Canada."
The 5-4 Harrower led Australia to silver medals in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic games and spent eight seasons in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury and Minnesota Lynx before continuing her career in Australia.
While Aubry was fitting in nicely with Harrower and her pro team in Australia, Canada was undergoing a major shift in offensive philosophy. Rather than playing the motion offense that probably better suits Aubry's strengths, the Canadians have shifted to a more deliberate, Princeton-style offensive attack, utilizing ball-reversal and back cuts.
"A lot of what we do in our offense doesn't exactly fit what I think are my offensive strengths. But that's fine with me because I don't really feel like I need to do a lot of scoring to help us win. My strengths still help our team," Aubry said. "I still get to set a ton of screens, which I love. I also get to rebound like crazy and shoot the three a little bit. All of those things make our team better, so the change has been great for all of us."
Aubry credits her ability to adapt to different styles and personalities to her time at Nebraska.
"Nebraska did the world for me," Aubry said. "Coach Yori's style was perfect for me because she taught and instilled the importance of proper defense. That carries over to the National Team every day. We win when we play good defense, whether it is at Nebraska or with Canada. I also had to play the 3-position one year when I was at Nebraska, which kind of forced me to move out of my comfort zone and shoot the three-point shot. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me, because it is one of the strongest parts of my game now."
From Canada and Nebraska, Aubry has followed the game of basketball around the world. She has played games in approximately 30 countries from Austria to Vietnam, Brazil to Switzerland and Bulgaria to China.
Amazingly, one place she has never played a game is in England. On July 28 when Canada takes the court against Russia at 5:15 a.m. (central) time at the London Basketball Arena, one of Nebraska's most unforgettable women's basketball players will achieve her dream in another country on her long, but not easy, basketball road.