The New Zealand Olympic Committee along with Basketball New Zealand has named the women’s basketball team for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
The naming concludes selections for the Games with the basketballers taking the final team number to 251 athletes, making it the largest ever New Zealand Commonwealth Games team.
New Zealand Tall Ferns Head Coach Guy Molloy has ensured there’s a balanced mix, consisting mostly of tried and trusted experience, but also with a youthful dose.
"After an excellent three-day camp in Dandenong last month, we have picked a team featuring a strong blend of youth and experience for the Commonwealth Games,” said Molloy today.
“Tall Ferns veterans such as Micaela Cocks, Toni Farnworth, and Natalie Purcell will lead admirably, whilst other talented Australian WNBL players Kalani Purcell, Chevannah Paalvast, and Jordan Hunter will provide scoring power and great defense.
“I am particularly excited, however, by the emergence of two very young Tall Ferns in Charlisse Leger-Walker and Zara Jillings. Amazingly Charlisse is only 16 years old, but she plays with the poise of a much older player and is a very clever playmaker. Similarly Zara is only 19 and is a freshman starter for Fordham University, but also really impressed during the Asia Cup campaign in 2017.
“The selected team is small, but fast and skilled, and we hope to play a great brand of basketball during the Games,” Molloy added.
Leger-Walker, a Year 12 student at St Peter’s School Cambridge, is set to become the youngest player to represent the Tall Ferns and the third member of her family to represent New Zealand at senior level following sister Krystal and mother Leanne.
Krystal, a sophmore guard at the University of Northern Colorado, also debuted for the Tall Ferns as a teenager back in 2014. Leanne is of course a two-time Olympian having attended the 1990 and 1994 Olympics with the Tall Ferns.
Needless to say Charlisse wasn’t the only member of her family to be excited about her selection.
“My mum was really excited. She has a bit of a poker face, but beneath that seriousness she was really happy. I told Krystal straight away as she was asking me every day if I was in the team, she is so excited that I am going to the Commonwealth Games.”
Having attended two training camps already, Leger-Walker feels comfortable in the Tall Ferns environment.
“The other girls treat me the same as everyone else and I don’t feel like I should step back. The senior players like Natalie and Micaela, who have a lot of experience in this team, are really good and treat me like any other player.”
Being the youngest member of the team is not an entirely strange scenario for the Kiwi playmaker.
“Since I was about 11 years-old, filling in for my sisters teams, I have played with older players so that’s the way I have been brought up. I think it has also worked well that I have played for the Junior Tall Ferns at a young age so it makes the transition to this team so much easier. Playing up in the age-groups has really benefitted my game skills and my basketball IQ,”
Balancing her school studies and playing international basketball presents a challenge that Leger-Walker is confident she can handle.
“I’m going to miss three weeks of school so it is going to be difficult. This term there are a lot of internals that I will have to catch up on in term two. Last year when I was away with New Zealand U16’s it worked out better, as it was mainly revision work at school. My teachers are really excited for me and we have been working together to ensure I don’t miss out on any credits. I’m really busy, but it’s pretty cool,” she added.
The rest of the squad contains nine of the players that attended the 2017 Asia Cup in Bangalore last July.
The other players not in Bangalore last year are Jordan Hunter and Erin Rooney. Hunter, the former Counties-Manukau guard, returns having missed the whole of the 2017 international campaign after incurring an ACL injury in the opening round of the Women’s Basketball Championship in Auckland last year.
Rooney last played for the national team at the 2016 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in France and most recently has been playing in the Swiss National League for Troistorrents.
Molloy will have a number of experienced Australian Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) players to call upon including Kalani Purcell who plays for his Melbourne Boomers club side.
Micaela Cocks (Townsville Fire), Toni Farnworth (Perth Lynx) and Chevannah Paalvast (Canberra Capitals) are the other current WNBL players.
Cocks, a three-time WNBL championship winner with Townsville, is the only survivor from the Tall Ferns team that won a silver medal at the 2006 Games in Melbourne – the last time basketball was included in the four-yearly event. Tall Ferns Assistant Coach Jody Cameron was also part of that Commonwealth Games team.
Cocks is also a veteran of the 2008 Beijing Olympics campaign as is another senior member of the squad, Natalie Taylor.
Molloy is excited about the talent at his disposal and is looking forward to building the team and the culture for the Commonwealth Games and beyond.
“The mission is to develop the New Zealand team into one of the top teams in the FIBA Asia qualification zone and we want to make a fast start at the Commonwealth Games also. I want to get off to a great start and we want to hit that tournament full steam.” Molloy added.
The Tall Ferns will head into a pre-Games training camp before opening their Commonwealth Games campaign with a game against Malaysia on 5 April in Cairns.
New Zealand Tall Ferns Team:
Mitchell Dance was MVP in the National Secondary Schools basketball final last year. The power forward top scored for his triumphant Rosmini College team. What was the key moment in the tight decider against Rangitoto College?
“I honestly think it was the warm up. It was 2-2 against Rangitoto going into that match and we knew if we wanted to win we had to execute our plays. The boys were really focussed and I knew from that point on we were in good shape,” Dance reflects.
The New Zealand U17 basketball team departs for China this week to take part in the FIBA U16 Asian Championships in April.
The thirteen-team tournament is being held in Foshan and doubles as a qualifying tournament for the FIBA World Championships in Argentina later in the year.
New Zealand is grouped in Pool A along with China and defending champions Hong Kong. To make the World Championships the Kiwis require a top four finish. Dance has been selected and is quick to emphasize New Zealand will have to show a similar focus to Rosmini to accomplish their goal of a World Championship berth.
“We're in a tough group and are working hard. I think we've got a talented team. Some of the players to watch include Marvin Williams-Dunn my teammate from Rosmini, Tom Cowie and Jaylin To’o from Wellington,” Dance says.
Only one of the 12 players selected are from the South Island with half the roster playing in the Auckland Premiership that contributed the leading three schools at Nationals last year. The Kiwis head coach is Dave Bublitz from New Plymouth.
“I've worked with Dave before at the U16 state champs in Melbourne last year. He is a tough guy, a real hard competitor who knows the game and sets high expectations,” Dance acclaims.
Expectations are high at Rosmini College for another prosperous 2018 season. The team has been training since January an approach which is bore fruit last year.
“We're not the biggest team so we know we have to be able to move the ball quickly and be fitter than everyone else. If we can play a high speed, high skill game we'll be competitive,” Dance explains.
“We're still pretty young. We have five year 13’s back and have picked up Kainoa Lepou, a New Zealand teammate from Hamilton Boys,’ and Tom Seuren from St Paul’s Collegiate. Kruz Perrott-Hunt, Taine Murray and Jayden Boucher are all good players,” Dance continued.
Rosmini’s biggest loss is that of William Heather. The Auckland Premiership starts in term two after the Easter holidays.
The Aon New Zealand Under 17 Boys team has been named ahead of the upcoming FIBA U16 Asian Championship.
The thirteen-team tournament, which runs from April 2-8, is being held in Foshan, China. The championship doubles as Asia’s qualifying tournament for the 2018 FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup to be held in Argentina later this year.
New Zealand has been drawn in Pool A along with China and Hong Kong, with the top placed team advancing directly to the quarter-finals. If placed second New Zealand will face the third placed team in Pool B for a spot in the last eight.
Pool B is made up of Australia, Philippines and Malaysia. Pool C comprises of Iran, Chinese Taipei and Macau with defending champions Korea, Japan, Lebanon and India in Pool D.
New Zealand Head Coach Dave Bublitz is looking forward to the tournament with preparation a long time in the making as the championship was originally scheduled for October 2017.
“We held our first camp back in December 2016 so we have had a long time preparing for this event.
“The majority of the team we have selected came on a tour of the Philippines in July last year. We used that tour to gain experience playing against Asian style basketball, which is very guard orientated and quite different to the style we are accustomed to in New Zealand.
“We have had a total of six camps as a build up to the Asia qualifier, the last being in Rotorua in December. That camp was very beneficial and I know when the team comes together again later this month they will bond very quickly.”
Bublitz stated that the goal for the coaching staff and players was very simple.
“We want to make the quarter finals then from there we are one win away from a place at the FIBA U17 World Cup.”
Bublitz expects the main competition to come from traditional foes.
“I imagine Australia will start favourites and Asian powerhouse China are always formidable. I’ve also heard that Japan and Korea operate with full-time coaches so we can expect those two teams to be strong.”
The team will gather for a couple of days training in Auckland on 26 March and will also play a couple of warm-up games in China before the tournament gets underway on 2 April.
Aon New Zealand Under 17 Boys team:
Head Coach: David Bublitz
Assistant Coach: Doug Courtney
Assistant Coach: Aaron Young
Manager: Delwyn Whale
Team Doctor/Physio: Todd Wolfe
More information on the event can be found at the FIBA website here: http://www.fiba.basketball/asia/u16/2017/news/draw-results-in-for-fiba-u16-asian-championship
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