Many of the leading contenders for the Tall Ferns assemble in Auckland this week, for a high performance selection camp that will help Head Coach Guy Molloy put names in ink for upcoming tours and tournaments in July and September this year, all of which leads into the ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The squad of players assembled includes three players still at school – Tayla Dalton (Carmel College), Jazz Kalahi-Fulu (St Mary’s, Ponsonby) and Charlisse Leger-Walker (St Peter’s, Cambridge).
Molloy described the camp as a vital stepping stone to unearth the increasing number of players putting their names in the hat for national team selection.
“This is the only real chance that we have resource wise and funding wise to assemble the squad in New Zealand ahead of a very busy second half of the year. We have eight or nine with previous Tall Ferns experience and maybe six or seven new kids coming in for the first time at this level.”
The timing is a little awkward for Molloy in that eight US College players were invited, but because of exams only three could attend.
“We will use this camp for two purposes, an ID camp first and foremost, but it will also go a long way to selection for the team to travel to Japan and the William Jones tournament in July.”
Molloy takes a ‘roll the sleeves up’ approach to any opportunity he has to work with the wider group of players, as he continues to build on the success of the William Jones tournament title in July last year and the bronze medal won at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – all of which is achieved after again being denied any funding from High Performance New Zealand.
“In our environment and with the challenges we face, you have to be great at prioritizing what you want to do. You get used to doing more with less, we have become very adept at this and need to continue to be clever within the current model.”
On the playing front, Molloy continues to be delighted at the increasing number of quality players putting their hand up for team selection, especially when players are also tied in with other commitments such as club-contracts, college commitments or work commitments for those more semi-professional to amateur players.
“Last year we struggled to assemble a squad for the Commonwealth Games, but since then we have increased the depth chart to a legitimate 30 or so names. To more than double that depth chart in that time has been a really worthwhile and rewarding exercise. The success we had at the William Jones Cup last year really has been the catalyst for much of that.”
The camp is a reflection of the truly global nature of the game and the increasing opportunities for New Zealand’s leading players to secure overseas contracts, with six players returning from Australia and a further three making the trip from their American College teams to get in front of Molloy and assistant coaches Jody Cameron and Aik Ho.
Included in the group at Pulman Arena this week are established Tall Ferns stars Toni Farnworth (nee Edmondson), Jessica Bygate, Penina Davidson, Kalani Purcell, Chevannah Paalvast and Josie Stockill, along with Stella Beck who finished second highest scorer at the 2018 William Jones Cup.
Among the newcomers are American College trio Amiee Book (18 years old and daughter of former Tall Black Ed Book), Mary Golding and Tara Manumaleuga, while Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu is selected from the Harbour U19 team for her first shot at Tall Ferns selection and teamate Tayla Dalton gets her first shot. Both Dalton and Sharne Pupuke-Robati were part of the New Zealand team at the FIBA U17 World Cup in Belarus last year.
There are some notable basketball family traditions being continued in this group, among them as mentioned Amiee Book (daughter of Tall Black Ed Book), Tessa Boagni (daughter of former Tall Fern Jane McMeeken-Ruscoe, sister of Tall Fern Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe and daughter of former NZ NBL import star Kerry Boagni), Charlisse Leger-Walker (daughter of NZ legend Leanne Walker and sister of Tall Fern Krystal) and Ella Fotu (sister of Tall Blacks Isaac and Dan Fotu).
Blows me away the number of great players New Zealand now has, to have this much depth is incredible. So the Asian cup is not used for Olympic qualifying? There’s a separate tournament in February?? That’s the one worry, no college players will be available?