Plenty of Kiwis in Melbourne United uniforms this season.
Melbourne is now the basketball capital of New Zealand!
Well the notion is not as daft as it sounds if looked at from a Kiwi professional players and coaches angle.
A Tall Black, three Tall Ferns and two highly regarded Kiwi coaches have added to the New Zealand basketball migration to the Victorian capital in recent months.
Shea Ili, who was a standout at the recent FIBA World Cup where he averaged 10.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, has left the Breakers to link up with Melbourne United.
Ili’s move takes the Tall Blacks player count at United to three with Alex Pledger and Tohi Smith-Milner also on the roster of the 2018 NBL champions.
Also winging into Melbourne immediately after the World Cup was Ross McMains. Less heralded than the move of Ili, it is still significant given that the 30 year-old, who grew up on Waiheke Island, has moved from a video analyst role with the New York Knicks in the NBA to link up with Dean Vickerman as an assistant coach.
If we grant Vickerman honoury New Zealand citizenship, after all he was a decade at the Breakers, that’s a handy Kiwi triumvirate when we add Paul Henare to the mix.
And that’s not the end of the coaching slide across the ditch. Long time Breakers assistant Judd Flavell took up an assistant’s position with NBL expansion club South East Melbourne Phoenix at the end of the last NBL season.
There is an even greater preponderance of Tall Ferns in Melbourne although the three Tall Ferns that have joined the Melbourne Boomers this season have transferred from other Women’s National Basketball League clubs.
Stella Beck has moved south after a rookie pro season with Townsville Fire, Toni Farnworth east after almost a decade in Perth and Penina Davidson has made the shorter trip from Adelaide to wear the purple and yellow of the Boomers.
That takes the New Zealand playing contingent at the Boomers to four as Kalani Purcell has played the last two seasons for the club.
Include the fact that former Tall Ferns coach Kennedy Kereama is on the coaching staff it means there are almost as many Kiwi accents as Australian in the Boomers team meetings.
Those meetings chaired by Guy Molloy, the Tall Ferns Head Coach.
Add the likes of Commonwealth Games bronze medalists Josie Stockill and Jess Bygate who are playing State League basketball in Melbourne and you can see why the city that is often described as the sporting capital of Australia could, also be called the basketball capital of New Zealand.
New Zealand senior international players and coaches based in Melbourne:
Players – Shea Ili, Alex Pledger, Tohi Smith-Milner
Coaching staff – Paul Henare, Ross McMains
SE Melbourne Phoenix:
Coaching staff – Judd Flavell
Players – Stella Beck, Penina Davidson, Toni Farnworth, Kalani Purcell
Coaching staff – Judd Flavell
Big V League
Players – Jacinta Beckley, Josie Stockill
Player – Jess Bygate