The Sky Sport Tall Ferns have named a squad of 14 players ahead of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup to be held from 27 September to 3 October and played at the Prince Hamza Hall in Amman, Jordan.
“The last 18 months has been tough. We’re desperate to get back on the floor and represent New Zealand, and this is an awesome opportunity to do just that. It won’t be easy, we’re missing some experienced players and we won’t have a pre-tournament camp due to the trans-Tasman bubble being shut, but when we step onto the hardwood in late September with the black jersey on and the fern on our chests, we’ll be ready,” said Molloy.
The squad will be reduced to 12 before the team travels to Jordan so who makes the cut?
The Covid outbreak in New Zealand prematurely shut down our own NBL competition but the good news for Head Coach Guy Molloy is that with nine of his players based in Australia all but Penina Davidson (based in a locked-down Melbourne) have been playing weekly in the competitive NBL1 competition.
Of the nine players based in Australia seven of them appear to be certain selections.
Micaela Cocks, the veteran of the side will run the point with forwards Kalani Purcell and Penina Davidson two more certain starters.
Ash Karaitiana is another contender for a starting spot having impressed in her international appearances to date as is experienced wing Chevannah Paalvast.
It will be difficult to leave Mary Goulding out of the 12 based on her current form. Goulding has enjoyed a remarkable season in the NBL1 Western Conference with East Perth Eagles where she has led the conference in both scoring and rebounding averaging a stunning 24 points and 13.6 boards per game!
Ash Taia will not be a name familiar to many New Zealand basketball fans.
After schooling in Brisbane she played three-years at Indiana State University playing 79 games for the Sycamores. Since graduating in 2018 Taia has played professionally in Australia.
“Ashley is a wing player who plays physically at both ends and can really shoot the ball. She is a star performer for Logan Thunder in the NBL1 competition and has had Australian WNBL experience with Adelaide Lightning and Canberra Capitals,” said Molloy when announcing her selection.
Taia shapes as a natural replacement for the retired Toni Farnworth.
Tessa Boagni and the Leger-Walker sisters, Krystal and Charlisse, were arguably the three standout players in the New Zealand NBL before it was derailed by Covid.
Boagni marked her return to competitive basketball following childbirth with a massive 34 points and 21 rebounds performance for Canterbury Wildcats against Harbour Breeze in the opening round of the NBL season. It looks a given that she will be the back-up centre to Davidson.
Krystal and Charlisse have never played together for the Tall Ferns but are certain to be given that opportunity in Amman.
Having lost the services of Stella Beck, due to an ankle injury sustained in training, coach Molloy will be delighted to have Krystal available and pushing for the point guard starting berth.
Brooke Blair and Zoe Richards have enjoyed fine seasons in Australia but both appear to be in one on one battles with the New Zealand based duo of Lauryn Hippolite and Ash Kelman-Poto for the last two spots.
Blair averaged 14.6 points per game for Brisbane Capitals in NBL1 and, as she has done throughout her career, shot the three-ball at a more than useful clip (40%).
Hippolite is a fine two-way prospect blessed with speed and athleticism and seemingly suited for contests against the quick guards that Japan and Korea boast.
Molloy described the 21 year-old as, “A crafty left-hander with excellent shooting range and I expect she can make her presence felt in coming years for the Ferns.”
Is 2021 a year too early for the Nelson product?
If selected Ash Kelman-Potu would also be a debutant. Molloy certainly liked what he saw from the power forward at a selection camp earlier in the year.
“Ash had a strong camp in Auckland and although she is battling a chronic ankle injury at the moment, I like the physicality she brings to the team.”
Since then the Harbour Breeze standout has undergone surgery to fix the knee problem, and is back in full training, but as a consequence missed the opening rounds of the NBL season.
In contrast Zoe Richards headed to Western Australia and has regular game time under her belt. She was a consistent performer for Rockingham Flames averaging 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Will Richards add to three international appearances she made in 2019 or will Molloy opt for the physical presence of Ash K-P?
We will find out soon as the FIBA Asia Cup begins in just four weeks time with a critical game against Korea looming on September 27. To progress to the next phase of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Australia, New Zealand must finish in the top 4 at the Asia Cup.
They’ll face Japan, Korea, and India in Group A which excites Molloy who says the draw is as exciting as it is challenging.
“There’s no easy draw in a tournament like this. Japan are five time defending champions and were silver medallists at the recent Olympic Games, so that will be a fantastic test for us as a team. Korea are ranked 19th in the world and we have some recent history with them having played them in Auckland in 2019, it’ll be good to see them again.”
Despite having beaten Korea 69-65 back in 2019 in Auckland repeating that performance, with no preparation camp or warm-up games, will be a big ask against opposition that have win the FIBA Asia title on no fewer than 12 occasions.
Why is the Korea tie important?
Take a look at the opposition in Group B – China, Australia, Chinese Taipei and the Philippines.
Assuming we beat India (ranked 70th) in the world and lose to #8 ranked Japan the Korean game becomes highly significant if we are to make the semi-finals and advance to the next World Cup Qualifying Tournament in February 2022.
Lose to Korea and we will likely finish third in Group A therefore facing a cross-over game against the second placed team in Group B – either Australia ranked #3 in the world or #7 China.
Topple Korea, finish second in the pool, and the path becomes significantly easier. A victory against Chinese Taipei (#34) or the Philippines (#51) wouldn’t be a given but you would prefer that match up to a Top 10 nation.
Game schedule (tip-off NZ time):
Monday Sept 27 v Korea (8pm)
Tuesday Sept 28 v Japan (8pm)
Wednesday Sept 29 v India (11pm)
Thursday Sept 30 play-off (TBC)
The Sky Sports Tall Ferns FIBA Asia Cup 2021 14-player Squad
- Brooke Blair – Brisbane Capitals
- Tessa Boagni – Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats
- Micaela Cocks – Townsville Heat/ Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze
- Penina Davidson – Melbourne Boomers/Nunawading Spectres
- Mary Goulding – Bendigo Spirit/East Perth Eagles
- Lauryn Hippolite – Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats
- Ash Karaitiana – Melbourne Boomers/Southern District Spartans
- Ash Kelman-Poto – Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze
- Charlisse Leger-Walker – Washington State University/Waikato Wizards
- Krystal Leger-Walker – Washington State University/Waikato Wizards
- Chevannah Paalvast – Bendigo Spirit/Logan Thunder
- Kalani Purcell – Sydney Uni Flames/Southern District Spartans
- Zoe Richards – Otago Gold Rush/Rockingham Flames
- Ash Taia – Canberra Capitals/Logan Thunder