The New Zealand Under 16 girls basketball team, and the New Zealand Select Under 16 girls team have been named. These teams will travel to Australia in June and July to take on some of Australia's top junior teams.
Head Coach of the New Zealand Under 16 Girls team, Natalie Visger, says the wider squad is a very athletic and passionate group with a bright basketball future.
“All of the staff ended up on the same page with selections, which were based on four main things: One – will the player be effective at her position at the respective international tournament and will she stay on pace with her development? Two – does she show the commitment and work ethic to put in quality trainings away from camps, and to continue to improve? Three – does she fill a void or meet a critical role for the squad? Four – does she show a bit of toughness, spirit or can-do attitude?”
Despite being named in separate teams, Coach Visger says that the players have trained a lot together and the two teams will be preparing closely during their development.
“So far we have been doing pretty much everything together, and we will continue to work together to train individual skills and fundamental team skills. The ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ will vary slightly on both ends of the ball, so that we have the best-fit scenario for each team. All of us as a staff agree that rebounding and defence are the backbone of great teams, and we hope to build those while adding our own twists along the development pathway.”
For the New Zealand Under 16s team, the pinnacle event with be the Australian Junior Championships in July. This tournament is the most prestigious age-group national basketball event in Australia, where the best of the best juniors in Australia and New Zealand compete. Coach Visger says the games will be fast paced and largely dictated by the players out on the court.
“We aren’t going to be able to influence the referees or expect much fan support, so these girls need to be prepared to fight and scrap their way through each game. I think we have a chance to make some waves and to play some very exciting basketball.”
The New Zealand Select Under 16 Team will compete in the Medibank Classic from 10 to 12 June, which is an invitational competition primarily for clubs. 2017 will be the second year that a New Zealand team will be invited to compete at this tournament.
New Zealand Under 16 Girls Team:
New Zealand Under 16 Girls and Select Girls Basketball Calendar: Event | Date | Location | Athletes Involved
The Junior Tall Blacks made history last December by outshooting Australia to become the first Junior Tall Blacks side in history to qualify for the FIBA Under 19 World Cup, to be held in Cairo this July. Moments after the buzzer of the FIBA U18 Oceania Final, with the world cup qualification cemented and celebrations ringing around the court, Head Coach Daryl Cartwright’s mind was already considering the massive challenge that had just been entitled to the team.
“I said to the boys directly after the Final, ‘The real hard work begins for us now that we've qualified for the World Cup.’”
There’s no doubt that the standard of play is going to jump up in Cairo, where professional players lace other countries’ rosters. Cartwright says every Kiwi player must earn their spot on the team again.
“I'm pretty honest with the group and I always am. The twelve that played in the Oceania Final will be involved of course, but the entire team is aware that there were guys who were unavailable last year because of injury and other reasons. Those players will also be able to challenge for selection, because we could have an injury, or we could have guys lacking a bit of form coming in, so yeah last year’s roster is not guaranteed for this year.
“It was a very difficult to select the final twelve for the Oceania Championship, but I'm always upfront with the players and tell them where they stand, so there are no surprises. I'm not telling one person one thing and another person something different, because that's part of our culture in the team and we want to try and be better every day we step on court.
“We have some non-negotiables and the boys are held to that standard. Last year they know that if they didn't meet those standards, they weren't going to cut it. What I’m really proud of was that the whole squad bought into it. The guys who missed out were obviously very disappointed, naturally so, but some of them were the first to congratulate us when we won the Oceania Championship. At that time I said to them "you guys are a part of this win as well, because all the boys who played and were a part of that preparation, helped us to get to the point where we were. So we can only take twelve, but they all played a part in some way helping us get there.”
Reselection might sound harsh to outsiders, but Cartwright emphasises the importance of competition within the team and using that to drive the passion for the New Zealand Jersey. It’s that toughness, yet respect for team over individual stars that appears to drive Cartwright’s coaching. Watch the final of the FIBA Under 18 Oceania Championships – Cartwright held his nerve against Australia. Instead of favouring five players, as some coaches have done in the past when challenging heavyweight nations, Cartwright stuck to the plan and rotated the entire team.
“The strength of the playing group was the depth of our team. I had faith in all the players, from one to twelve,” says Cartwright.
“I think everyone deserved an opportunity, so as a coach I wanted to see what each of them could bring and could provide, and had faith that each of them could do the job when on the floor. Obviously there are guys who are going to play more minutes than others in the end, but I felt that everyone contributed positively when they got their opportunity. That was a nice thing, to be able involve all the guys in the team and give them the opportunity to feature and play in the final.”
Cartwright is quick to pull the victory into perspective and says a win over Australia, one of the world’s top junior teams, is still only a victory at the Oceanias. Now a bigger stage awaits in Cairo.
“At the Worlds, I don't think we are going to be as offensively talented as some other teams there that are obviously playing at a higher level. There are teams from the Americas and Europe in particular, who play alongside very good professional clubs and players who spend day in and out competing at a very high level.
“Our challenge is to find ways to negate some of that offensive firepower of the other teams and working together as a unit really well. That's kind of how the Tall Blacks manage to punch way above their weight internationally – it’s that ‘team basketball’ over individual star performers – that will be something we will look to tap into again and utilise that as our strength.”
Now that the draw has been released, Cartwright is preparing for the opposition in Pool A: Korea, France and another from the Amercias that’s yet to be added. While he and his coaching team will be doing their homework, so will the opposition.
“Obviously we have our systems in place, which we used against Australia, so we may have to look at having other options, or other ways we can maybe target our opposition and exploit areas of weakness.
“We’ll also be working with our athletes. We’ll start to track them a little bit, look at what work they are putting in, follow their programmes, see who they are going to be working with when they're not in camp, and trying to get them to a certain level of fitness. We obviously want them peaking around June - July and operating at the highest level.”
Whatever makes up the preparation for the World Cup, there’s no doubt that the ‘team before self’ ethos will be central to the Junior Tall Blacks. Qualification with the wider squad of junior players has been a focus for years. Many of the players were team mates as the Under 17 team, which lost to Australia in the final moments during the Under 17 Oceanias, despite beating them earlier in the tournament during in pool play – New Zealand 81, Australia 62. For Cartwright, that was ammunition.
“During the very first session that I took over as the head coach, I played the team a video of those last moments of the Under 19s Final from 2014, when the team lost to Australia on the buzzer, and I pointed out that was the difference between winning and losing. It really focused us and where we wanted to be. It helped us set those non-negotiables that I mentioned and our expectations to be better every single day. Ever since then we have believed.”
Three young Kiwi basketballers have received an invitation from FIBA and the NBA to attend a global basketball camp that will be peppered with US College scouts, NBA Coaches and NBA players, albeit Sam Waardenburg has reluctantly declined the invitation due to his College commitments in the United States.
Waardenburg, Quinn Clinton and Taane Samuel attended Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Asia, held in Australia last June. After strong performances, all three were selected to attend BWB Global, an exclusive camp for only the best players from the regional 2016 camps in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, with Clinton and Samuel taking up the invitation.
Basketball New Zealand Chief Executive, Iain Potter, says having three players selected from any nation is unique.
“The Global Basketball Without Borders camps enable FIBA and the NBA to tap into talent outside of the U.S. In the past, we were proud to have one player selected, with Matt Freeman selected in 2015 and Tai Wynyard in 2016, both of whom have gone on to secure scholarships to high ranking Universities. To have three young Kiwis selected is outstanding and an example of the exceptional basketball talent that is being produced in New Zealand,” says Potter.
Sam Waardenburg was named camp MVP of the BWB Asia camp in June while Quinn Clinton was named MVP of the camp’s All Star Game. Consequently, they were both guaranteed a spot at BWB Global. But Tanne Samuel was not automatically selected and he says the invitation letter comes as a pleasant surprise.
“I am grateful and humbled to be a part of this great event and given the opportunity. The BWB Asia camp in Australia really helped me improve as a player physically and mentally. It helped me to identify my weaknesses and work on turning that into a strength.
“To receive the elite level of coaching at BWB is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to share this with other players my age around the world is surreal. I’m really thankful,” said Samuel.
Christchurch’s Quinn Clinton is equally excited to be involved.
“I’m really looking forward to this experience. It’s going to be great for Taane and I to represent our country together and help promote New Zealand basketball on the world stage. I’m keen to learn as much as I can from the NBA coaches and players, and get an insight into what it means to play at this higher level,” said Clinton.
The international prestige of this event is gathering momentum as more BWB players are finding their way into the pinnacle events of the sport, including FIBA World Cups and the NBA. FIBA says over the years 43 alumni have been drafted into the NBA. The NBA Draft of 2016 contained three BWB Global participants, all selected in the top 10 picks. This is the third BWB Global Camp, while the NBA and FIBA have staged 48 BWB camps in 29 cities in 25 countries since 2001.
To add to the excitement of the event, BWB Global will centre around the NBA All Star Game in New Orleans. The NBA All-Star Game is a basketball exhibition game hosted annually by the NBA, which matches the league's star players from the Eastern Conference against their counterparts from the Western Conference. Camp participants will attend and participate in NBA All Star activities throughout the weekend. The camp will also consist of basketball positional development, strength and conditioning, life-skills sessions, and games and competitions during the day.
The camp is fully funded with the players’ expenses covered, including flights. The 2017 edition of Basketball without Borders Global will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, from 17 to 19 February, 2017.
The invitation further underlines the growing reputation of the burgeoning talent pool coming out of New Zealand, with increasing numbers of young men and women securing scholarships into prestigious American Colleges.
Such opportunities further emphasize that basketball is not only a numbers game (amongst the fastest growing sports in New Zealand) but also a high performance achiever, with the New Zealand U19 Men set to appear at the FIBA Junior World Championships in Egypt in July this year, following on from their history making defeat of Australia at the Oceania Champs in 2016.
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