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Playing on Canada's national team helped Potter return to Utah confident, hungry

Utah Utes forward Emily Potter (12) gets around Stanford Cardinal forward Erica McCall (24) as Utah and Stanford play in the Huntsman Center Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016.
Utah Utes forward Emily Potter (12) gets around Stanford Cardinal forward Erica McCall (24) as Utah and Stanford play in the Huntsman Center Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016.
Scott G Winterton,

SALT LAKE CITY – While most of her teammates spent the summer working on fitness plans designed by Utah’s coaching staff, Emily Potter spent the summer chasing an Olympic dream.

The 6-foot-6 junior forward played four games with the Canadian Women’s National Team before spending the rest of the summer with the Olympic Development Squad. She traveled the world playing the game she loves for her country, and while it was an incredible opportunity, it made preparing for the collegiate season a bit more challenging.

Luckily, Utah coach Lynne Roberts understood both Potter’s desire to play for her country and who might have insight into helping her minimize the rigorous schedule on her collegiate season.

“I think as a player it’s the ultimate goal, right?” the coach said. “So it’s something as a coach, you have to support because if you were in their shoes, you’d do it. But I think we just have to be smart about the training.”

She said she consulted with the men’s basketball coaching staff as they dealt with this issue when Jacob Poeltl played for Austria. They suggested easing into preseason training, as well as holding her out at times so “she doesn’t hit a wall,” Roberts said.

Roberts said there are so many positives for a player, it’s a situation most coaches embrace.

“It’s a positive experience,” she said. “It’s being coached by different people, getting another perspective. …She played on the senior national team. She was around Olympians, and she saw what it takes to be an elite athlete at that level. She saw the things you have to do to be elite, but also to separate yourself from the rest. I think she really learned a lot.”

Potter said the experience definitely solidified her Olympic goals.

“It’s definitely not out of reach,” said the 6-foot-6 junior who played with the Canadian women’s senior national team in the summer leading up to the Olympic Games. She watched her former teammates play nearly perfect in pool play before falling to France in the quarterfinals of the medal rounds.

“Being at that level definitely motivates me, like, ‘Hey I could play here’,” she said. “But they’re so smart and very dedicated. That’s a lot of sacrifice to get to that point. …I got to see what it’s like to play with those girls and see their habits and how they train and just the daily routine of someone at that level. I loved it.”

Potter said she feels good – physically and mentally – as she prepares for the Utes exhibition game Thursday at 11 a.m. against the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

“I feel like we’re definitely all more settled in and more comfortable,” Potter said. “We know the coaches now and we’re used to playing together. Last year it was all business. Now we can mix that business and have more fun with it and play.”

That sense of fun may come from the team’s personality as much as their comfort level with Roberts, her staff and the system.

“I think in a kind of weird dichotomy, they’re goofy and driven,” she said. “They’re a goofy group so they don’t take themselves too seriously. But they’re also very driven.”

Roberts said the team’s unexpected success – an 18-15 overall record after a 9-21 2014 campaign – made them hungry to prove even more this season. The players are leaner, quicker, taller and more athletic, and they say they have better chemistry.

“I think we’re just a lot more used to playing with each other because the year before I sat out (with injury) and Emily sat out (with injury) and it took us awhile to play with each other,” said the Springville native. “We had a new coaching staff, and it took us awhile to figure out how to play with each other. Now everything is way easier and we can kind of move on from there.”

Potter said she learned something else from last year’s season.

“The margin of error is small,” she said. “And it keeps getting smaller in this league, in the Pac-12. …Every game is a dogfight. A 10-point deficit, a 10-point lead, a 20-point lead, it can be erased so quickly.”

Roberts said the goals in an exhibition game are more about helping players overcome first-game jitters and working out problems in rotations.

"Exhibitions aren't about who you're playing," she siad. "They're about yourself."

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: adonsports