SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Fulfilling a dream come true, Westmont's Tugce Canitez will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics while representing her native country of Turkey in women's basketball.
"I am so excited for Tugce and the opportunity she has to represent her country," said Westmont head coach Kirsten Moore. "I can think of no greater honor as an athlete than to represent her country and to do it at the Olympic Games.
"She is a goal oriented and driven person. When we asked her what her goals and dreams were when she came to Westmont, going to the Olympics was part of it. To see her do that is a sign of all the hard work she has put in and of continuing to believe in all that she could do.
Turkey earned a berth into the Olympics by defeating Argentina 72-58 on June 29. Canitez saw eight minutes of play, scoring a single point and pulling down two rebounds. In the three games of the qualifying tournament, Canitez tallied 29 minutes, 11 points and seven rebounds.
"She has played great," said Moore. "The day that she qualified was the day that I was giving birth, so I didn't get to watch that game, but I did watch the first two games. Every time she had an opportunity to go in, she helped her team. The announcers were talking about how she was a difference maker when she came into the game. That says a lot about her confidence and her abilities. She is the youngest player on her team by a couple of years, so she has a great future representing her country."
"We are doing great," said Moore about herself and her newborn who weighed in at six pounds two ounces and 19 inches long. "Alexis Renee Moore was born on June 29, the day that Tugce qualified for the Olympics. That was a good day."
Turkey has been assigned to Pool A at the London Summer Games which also includes China, Czech Republic, Angola, Croatia and the United States.
"I am excited that she is in the United States' pool," said Moore. "Playing the U.S. will be a step in another goal she has which is to play professionally here in the WNBA. She knows there is a lot of hard work to make that happen, but an opportunity to play in the Olympics against WNBA players will only serve her well."
On Saturday, July 28, Turkey will open play in London at 6:30 a.m. (PDT) against Angola. Pool play continues with match-ups against the Czech Republic at 3:15 a.m. on Monday, July 30 and the United States at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, August 1. On Friday, August 3, Turkey will play China at 8:45 a.m. Turkey's final Pool A game will be played on Sunday, August 5 against Croatia at 12:00 p.m.
The top four teams from each pool advance to the quarterfinals of the knockout round beginning Tuesday, August 7.
"This year at Westmont helped prepare her as we helped her to continue to improve as a player," noted Moore. "The role that she played at Westmont really got her ready to play at this high level in Turkey and gave her a lot of confidence to play great in training camp and earn a spot on the roster."
Canitez will return to Westmont this fall for her senior season of collegiate play.
"I am so proud of her," said Westmont team captain Jillian Wilber. "She has worked so hard and I am thrilled for her. It is great for our program to have someone representing us in the Olympics. It is something she really wanted because she didn't get to play for the national team in the past."
Asked what Canitez' Olympic experience means for the Westmont Women's Basketball team, Wilber responded. "It says that we are an elite program with elite athletes playing for us. She will have been working hard all summer. She is going to come back and bring that competitive edge to our team going into the fall training and into our season.
"I think what she brings back to our team will be huge," continued Wilber. "Hopefully she can help us transfer her hard work and competitive attitude to the NAIA and the GSAC. I can't wait to see what she brings to us in the fall. She will grow a lot as a player with so much experience playing on an international level. Just hearing her stories and getting to spend time with her is going to be really nice because she is a great person as well as a great athlete."
Last season, Canitez was the Golden State Athletic Conference player of the year, an NAIA First Team All-American and the State Farm Women's Basketball Coaches Association NAIA Player of the Year.
Canitez will be the third Westmont student-athlete to compete on the Olympic stage. Paul Herman represented the United States in 1964 and placed fourth in the decathlon, the best showing by an American that year.
Westmont sprinter Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa of Madagascar competed in three Olympics. In the 1964 Tokyo games, he ran in both the 100 and 200 meters, but did not reach the finals. In 1968 he competed in Mexico City in the same events, reaching the finals of the 100 meter race and placing eighth. At Munich in 1972, Ravelomanantsoa reached the semifinals of the 100 meters and also competed in the 4 x 100 meter relays.