Next week 48 of New Zealand’s leading boys and girls basketball teams will flock to the Central Energy Trust Arena to contest the National Secondary Schools AA championships.
Rosmini College (Boys) and St Peter’s Cambridge (Girls) are the defending champions, but are expected to face stiff competition retaining their titles this year.
There is an abundance of talent on display. Here is a select group of boys and girls to watch.
Malachi Collins (Tawa College) - Tawa College won their first Wellington title this year under the coaching of Nixon Penese (who coached St Mary’s College, Wellington to a National girls title in 2016) and the on court leadership of Malachi Collins. Collins scored 22 points in the Wellington final as Tawa thrashed the highly rated Scots College. Collins has the height (6ft3) and skill to cover multiple places on the court. Joshua Johnson, who bagged 31 points in the final, is another major scoring threat. Both boys have been regulars in various rep squads. Other players to watch from the capital include: Julius Korent (St Patrick’s College, Silverstream), Tafara Gapara (Scots College), Jaylin To’o (Rongotai College) and Filimone Waqabaca (St Patrick’s College, Wellington).
Jazz Kailahi-Fulu & Zaaluyah Kailahi-Fulu (St Mary’s College, Ponsonby) - The dynamic sisters have led St Mary’s to a faultless 22-0 record this season. St Mary’s won their maiden Auckland Premiership and followed that success with a 78-70 victory over Westlake Girls’ High School in the Zone I final in September. The sisters scored 35 points combined with Jazz scoring 14 alone in the third quarter to keep St Mary’s in the contest. Jazz is a Junior Tall Fern and scored 20 points in the Auckland final when St Mary’s again conquered Westlake 83-74. Zaaluyah is the younger of the sisters, but she too has featured in New Zealand age group teams. Emme Shearer (Westlake Girls’ High School) will be very familiar with St Mary’s threats. She was recently included in a Tall Ferns extended squad of 24 players and shapes as a key figure in an experienced squad.
Charlisse Leger-Walker (St Peter’s Cambridge) - Leger-Walker is on international duty with the Tall Ferns at the Asia Cup in India. That Tournament concludes on Sunday, September 29th with Leger-Walker, the youngest ever Tall Fern, not due in Palmerston North until late Tuesday. Even withstanding Leger-Walker’s absence, St Peter’s should get through pool play. Charlisse is a twice reigning MVP and will again look to show her class. Perhaps the most memorable performance by Leger-Walker at the Nationals was in the 2016 final when she scored 48 of St Peter’s 62 points.
Jenna-Rose Mafua (Hutt Valley High School) - The 2019 Wellington Sharp Cup winners will be hoping to go one better than the 2018 Nationals where they were runners up. Jenna-Rose Mafua, sister of 2018 New Zealand rep Leah Mafua, has been outstanding in maintaining the high standards in Lower Hutt. A prolific scorer and inspiring leader, Mafua is unselfish to, bringing out the best in her teammates. Zone 3 champions Sacred Heart Girls’ College, New Plymouth, with the front court punch of Izzy Cook and Raquel Sampson, are strong contenders and their contest with Westlake Girls’ will be an early highlight in pool play.
Ethan Mandeno (Rangitoto College) - In 2018, Rangitoto College was embarrassed 110-59 in the Auckland Premiership by Rosmini College. Mandeno did himself proud though by scoring 25 points. A leader and accomplished national age group rep, Mandeno has the ability to bring out the best in others and helped drive Rangitoto to an Auckland title this year. Mandeno top scored in the final against St Kentigern College with 25 points. Harry Payne and Zach Riley are also significant contributors for Rangitoto, who were National Champions as recently as 2015 and 2016. Rangitoto are coached by Tall Blacks great Lindsay Tait. St Kentigern College, winners of the Zone 1 Premiership, extracted revenge upon Rangitoto recently and with Shalom Broughton, an Under 18 3x3 New Zealand representative this year, pose a serious threat to anyone.
Taine Murray (Rosmini College) - The athletic shooting guard, still only Year 12, was selected for the Tall Blacks this year and made quite an impression on coach Paul Henare who said: "Taine has impressed us all these past few days and quite simply played his way into the 14…He has a composure beyond his years and is going to develop into a very good player, but already at 17, he has shown that he feels at home at this level." Rosmini haven’t fired this year, but the two-time defending champions haven’t had a full squad due to rep duty and with Murray on board are a formidable prospect. Auckland Grammar School spearheaded by Junior Tall Blacks shooting guard Jaga Mete are another threat as are perennial contenders Westlake Boys’ High School spurred on by the big and experienced Junior Tall Black, Sam Mennenga. Zone 2 Premiership winners St John’s College, Hamilton with Akiva McBirney-Griffin and Finn Lally in their ranks are looking to make a splash and win their first National crown since 1996.
Mac Stodart (St Andrew’s College) - Two years ago Mac Stodart received news of making a national basketball team when he was in class at James Hargest College. His mother, Maria Alcock, a teacher at the college, saw the email first and made a swift visit to Mac's classroom. At the time Stodart was named in the New Zealand Under 16 team and has since advanced to the Under 17 outfit and has been a key driver in the improvement of St Andrew’s who were second in the Zone 4 Premiership in September. At over two metres tall, Stodart has the size and ability to dominate anyone. He has attended the NBA without borders program on India. Thompson Trophy MVP Ben Carlile-Smith will be a major force for Middleton Grange School who are likely to lead the South Island’s bid for a National title. Mitchell Hughan is a player to watch in the Otago Boys’ High School roster.
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