From Queen Margaret College to the Tokomanawa Queens to New Zealand representative teams, culminating in her recent selection to the senior women’s Tall Ferns squad, Lilly Taulelei has had a stellar year.
One of a group of students at QMC studying for International Baccalaureate qualifications, Lilly is on the home stretch of finishing 11 exams, before finally catching her breath and taking some much-deserved time off over summer with family and friends.
There was little time for rest and reflection returning from Australia on her maiden tour with the Tall Ferns.
“I had to study for my school exams while I was recently away with the Tall Ferns,” said Lilly, “because my first exam was the day after I got back and the others quickly followed. There was lots of study over there as well as lots of basketball!”
Making the Tall Ferns squad and being in the full international environment was tough but rewarding for Lilly.
“That was my biggest highlight this year. My goal was to make the Tall Ferns when I was 21, so to make it now was a really big moment for me and my family.
“The tour to Australia was mentally and physically hard. There are lots of veteran players who know what is going on – there is no shallow end, it is straight into the deep end.
“But all the players and the staff were very supportive, making sure I knew what was going on and if I had any questions they were answered straightaway, and it was a great experience for me.”
On Sunday night at the College Sport Wellington Awards, she won the Girls Basketball accolade and then was announced as the Supreme Girls winner for 2022.
“It was a huge surprise and real honour to win the main award,” said Lilly. “I felt privileged to win the basketball award in the first place and then to win the supreme award felt surreal.
“I am very grateful to my family and to my school, who supported my basketball journey from the beginning. I am the first student from Queen Margaret College to win this award.
The last time a basketballer won the CSW Supreme Award was when Steven Adams won it in 2011.
Lilly is just the second female overall basketball winner since Sacred Heart College’s Melissa LeToa in 2003, whom Lilly’s dad’s family is friends with.
Ending the year with the Tall Ferns, Lilly earlier played for the New Zealand U17s at the FIBA U17 World Cup in July.
“My trip to Jordan and Hungary for that and finishing fourth in the Asia Cup to qualify and then 12th at the World Cup and meeting the best young players in the world was a big highlight. It was my first exposure to international basketball since 2019 after Covid, so it was great to travel and play with a good group of girls and an amazing coaching staff.”
Returning home, Lilly headed over to Australia to attend the NBA Basketball without Borders Academy camp and she made the All Star Five.
Another major experience was being part of the Tokomanawa Queens, winners of the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa Basketball League.
She said being in the championship winning Queens environment with a group of senior professional players was huge for her. “It gave me a taste of what it meant to be a professional and how to function at that level and I learnt some tips from them that I will take with me throughout my basketball journey.”
Not forgetting too that QMC won the Sharpe Cup CSW Senior Girls title this year.
“I was proud of our team. I couldn’t be with them for that final because of other commitments, but I supported them from afar. “We had an amazing culture, and we had some girls who were just exposed to basketball this year so that was cool to see them go out and score some points, get some rebounds and show great defence.”
“Our school has seen a massive upswing in basketball participation over the past few years, so we have got some great young students who can carry the mantle into the future for QMC.”
Lilly’s Wellington U19 team also finished third at their Nationals this year. “It was nice to play with different girls, many of whom are usually our rivals in opposing teams. We always play great together, and it was good to get out on the court with them again and take a medal home.”
Lilly describes herself as a multi-skilled, versatile player – less concerned about specific positioning and looking to grow into a player that can cover most roles at any time.
“That is what I am trying to build, I believe that in the future and with my discussions with American Colleges, the game is becoming somewhat position-less.”
Lilly enjoys 3×3 basketball. “I love that version of the game too; it is a different kind of basketball and you have got to change your on-court IQ and strategy.”
She loves other sports. “I loved doing dragon boating again this year. I have always played netball as well and was in the QMC squad that made the CSW final against St Mary’s. But like school basketball, I couldn’t be there for lots of the games because of clashes. It was fantastic that we also finished fourth at the LNISS tournament and then made it to the national tournament that was played near home in Porirua.”
Juggling her sports duties with her role as head prefect of her school has also been challenging this year.
“One of the main things I have learnt from the position is my leadership style has had to adapt a lot this year. Because I couldn’t be there in person for a lot of events I have had to learn how to delegate and to open up my leadership style for others to take on some of the responsibilities.
“That skillset of being able to adapt helped me with my most recent Tall Ferns tour, There is a lot going on there. Guy Molloy is an amazing coach and he has a specific way of doing things. So for a 17-year-old you have to learn to adapt very quickly.
“Being head girl this year I have learnt how to change the way I talk and act around people. Talking with the year 12s is very different to the year 7s; conversing with the staff is different to the students. Being that versatile, adaptable person has really helped both my leadership and my basketball.”
Eleven is also the number of US Division 1 Colleges that have presented offers on the table for her for next year – something she is definitely set on but hasn’t made any decisions on where to yet.
She was born in Los Angeles, her parents both living and working there for a time in the early 2000s.
She has Māori and Samoan heritage, which she is proud of and will always carry with her too, no matter what and where the next few years bring on and off the court.
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