The Aon New Zealand Under 18 women’s team has been named today ahead of the FIBA Under 17 Oceania Championships, to be held in Guam from 9 to 15 July.
Head Coach Jody Cameron says this is a relatively young and inexperienced team that has needed to step up after the majority of the Junior Tall Ferns have moved on to US College scholarships or past the age of eligibility.
“The current pool of players has worked hard to get to next level. We are really happy with the commitment from them and their families, and every player we’ve named thoroughly deserves their spot in this team,” said Cameron.
Similar to the Tall Ferns and Tall Blacks, New Zealand age-group teams are also subject to new qualification rules thanks to FIBA’s new Asia Zone. Previously New Zealand age-groups teams were required to be number one in Oceania to qualify for a FIBA World Cup, as was achieved by the Junior Tall Blacks in December last year. Now, teams are required to be within the top two in Oceania, which qualifies them to play in the FIBA Asia age-group Championships. The team will then have to finish in the top four in that tournament to qualify for the FIBA Under 19 World Cup.
For now, Coach Cameron’s thoughts are on the first round of the Oceania Champs next month.
“Going into the Oceania Champs is always a welcoming challenge involving ourselves, the surrounding Pacific islands and current Oceania champs, Australia. The talent within the Oceania region is growing too, especially with the injection of support from FIBA implementing programmes and international events held in the Pacific. It's great to see forward thinking for the game we love to foster it globally, particularly into the far reaches of our backyard.”
Favourites Australia is in Pool A with Tahiti, Samoa and the Marshall Islands. New Zealand sits in Pool B.
“We're up against some very strong opposition there with our pool drawing New Caledonia, home favourites Guam, and Palau. So we will get to test ourselves against the very best in the inclusive regions. For the countries that manage to finish in the top two, they will get to progress onto the Asia Championship and have an opportunity to showcase their talents on a large stage. It’s very exciting for these young players to represent New Zealand on such a massive stage, and potentially be playing in front of scouts from big US colleges and leagues. This truly is where dreams can come true for these kids.”
Coach Cameron says the team is preparing well, although she says it’s important that there is balance for these athletes who are still managing the pressures of school studies.
“Preparation is always a delicate process when young athletes are juggling other demands, but they have all put their hand up for the challenge. The work is plenty and continuous. It never ends and we demand a lot from them. The athletes have worked hard for their opportunity on the international stage, but they do it because they want to do their country and families proud.
“It's also exciting for them. It’s a fantastic time for women's basketball, not only here in New Zealand but all over the world. Young girls are starting to realise they can go a long way in this game both on and off the court. As a team, our motivation is getting to the Asia Champs and then the World Cup, we want to advance and develop a programme that is sustainable and exciting to all those younger athletes looking up to these current players within our national programme.
“Wearing the fern is not a matter taken lightly and with the selection process being tough, it's great to see them individually wanting to claim it, wear it and know everyone at home is behind them. Their families are motivation enough, and I feel that's something we can overlook. If you ask each kid what motivates them, their parents and family are at the core if it,” says Cameron.
Aon Under 18 New Zealand Women’s Team:
For more information on the FIBA Oceania U17 Tournament go to the FIBA website: http://www.fiba.com/oceania/u17women/2017/Marshall-Islands
Follow the teams progress through www.basketball.org.nz and Basketball New Zealand social media channels: @BasketballNZ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
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