Basketball New Zealand thought they had a slam dunk.
Four international teams from Europe, North America and Australia headed to New Zealand this month for a series against a Tall Ferns. team that had not been on court in 12 months.
But the European World Cup-bound team came up with a late block, thwarting the tournament when it was decided a stop in New Zealand was no longer feasible.
Tall Ferns coach Guy Molloy said when one team pulled out it created a “domino effect” which left Basketball New Zealand searching for replacement competition.
Instead of three international teams at home the Tall Ferns will play three domestic sides in Australia next month.
That the team will get any games at all is thanks to Molloy’s links to the WNBL in Australia where he first coached in the late 1980s through to mid-90s and then again for 10 seasons from 2013.
Calling on his contacts, Molloy helped the Tall Ferns secure games against WNBL sides – the Southside Flyers, Melbourne Boomers and Bendigo Spirit – over four games from 15-24 October.
“Thankfully the teams were pretty hungry because they are in pre-season and when we tour they’ll be three weeks out from the start of their pro season.
“These three WNBL clubs play in one of the top women’s leagues in the world. So this tour will help us to lay a foundation and give a ton more experience to our players, especially our emerging talent.”
Not the international opposition that Molloy had hoped for, but he will take what he can get.
The Tall Ferns’ last campaign was a fifth-place finish at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup and Molloy said it was vital that the team played against quality competition this year with the qualification for the 2024 Olympics on the horizon.
“We’ve been much later out of the starters block with regards to our preparations than we’d like to be,” he said.
Covid, combined with New Zealand’s geography compared to other top basketball nations, had given the Tall Ferns limited opportunities within the past 24 months.
“The tyranny of distance has always been an issue for us, and typically we benefit greatly from any international competition we can play against.
“We certainly struggle to get the volume of international competition that we need because obviously it is a very expensive exercise so when they actually come to New Zealand to play, that’s perfect, but with this tournament falling through we’ve had to make other plans.
“The FIBA Asia Cup in July 2023 is our pinnacle qualification event ahead of the Olympics, so having this Australia tour means we can go into next year with some international competition under our belt.”
Molloy is currently in Sydney at the FIBA Women’s World Cup scouting what is happening on the international stage and looking to a future when he can unleash a new talent.
One of the 12 players named in the Tall Ferns for the tour of Australia who may be unfamiliar to New Zealanders is Pania Davis – a 6’6″ centre who plays in the NBL1 West division in Perth.
Although Davis has lived most of her life in Australia, she has Kiwi parents – and Molloy said she was a “really good catch” for the Tall Ferns.
Molloy believed the 19-year-old Davis could be the tallest athlete to ever play for the Tall Ferns.
She came on Molloy’s radar at the suggestion of Southland Sharks coach Rob Beveridge.
“Girls of that height are not abundant in New Zealand, so we’re hoping to see some exciting stuff from her as a player of the future.
“Typically we’re under-sized when we play internationally – with athletes like Penina [Davison] and Kalani [Purcell] having to shoulder the workload for us down low in the past – and since neither player is available for this trip it’s a great opportunity for Pania to show us what she can do in that position.”
The squad features several familiar Tall Ferns in Micaela Cocks (141 caps), Stella Beck (47 caps) and Charlisse Walker-Leger (27 caps at only 20 years old), as well as Ash Taia and Lauryn Hippolite – who both earnt their maiden caps at last year’s FIBA Asia Cup.
With seven brand new players in the squad, Molloy liked the balance in age and experience on offer and expects the veterans to play a mentoring role.
For Davis and the other debutantes in the squad, Molloy is keen for them to understand and adjust to the level of competition they will often face in international play.
“The speed of competition, the size of the athletes you’re playing against, this is all increased against what some of the youngest players have come up against domestically, so it’s important to acclimatise these athletes to the calibre of player they’ll be playing against.
“And then it’s also about building our team methods and culture so that we’re better prepared to tackle our opposition. It’s typical of a Kiwi basketball team – the Tall Ferns in particular – that we need to rely on teamwork over individual talent and on hustle and putting in more effort than the other team does.
“We’ve been trying to make a big push over the past few years to develop our own style of play, one that focusses on the skills of the players – and I’m really keen to continue that.”
From the 12 athletes selected, nine of them played in the inaugural 2022 Tauihi season across four of the five teams.
“That speaks volumes in itself for the importance of this league going forward, not just as a domestic competition but as a pathway to the national team and beyond.”
The Tall Ferns squad: Ash Taia, Charlisse Leger-Walker, Gabriella Adams-Gavet, Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu, Kendell Heremaia, Lauryn Hippolite, Lilly Taulelei, Micaela Cocks, Olivia Berry, Pania Davis, Parris Mason and Stella Beck.
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