The New Zealand Under 16 Men’s and Women’s teams returned from the Australian Under 16 State Championships on Sunday. The teams finished 5th and 7th respectively at the eight-day tournament held in Melbourne.
The Under 16 Men won seven of their nine games losing only to the two finalists Victoria Metro and Victoria Country.
The Kiwis led Vic Metro, the eventual winners, by 19 points at half-time on the opening day of competition before eventually losing 83-76 after giving up the lead for the first time in the game in the final 90 seconds.
Lessons were learnt and the boys in black then won their remaining five pool games.
Unfortunately an unconvincing quarterfinal performance against Vic Country meant the Kiwis missed out on playing for medals on the final two days of competition.
Coach Dave Mackay was left to ponder what might have been.
“My overall feeling is really positive. For most of the tournament we played at the level we prepared for and expected but unfortunately in the quarter-final we just didn’t play our best. We certainly didn’t rise to the occasion unfortunately.
“Except for that performance and the last quarter of the first game we played some very good basketball.
“A positive for us was the comments that we received from some of the Australian people that we were one of the best prepared New Zealand teams they had ever seen at a State Championships, We were certainly taken notice of.
In the past we have usually been well beaten in a couple of pool games and won a couple but not really been in a position to win the tournament. This year we were in the mix to win it which was positive.”
The two games won on the final two days of competition by an average margin of 27 points only served to show how much depth the team had and how much potential they possess.
Southland guard Tom Cowie, Tauranga forward Shalom Broughton and North Harbour guard Mitchell Dance caught the eye with some outstanding individual performances but all ten players had spells of excellence.
Cowie finished in 2nd place on the three-point shooting percentage list in the tournament statistics with a highly creditable 46% (18/39). He was also 3rd on the assists list dishing an average 4.4 per game.
Dance led the Kiwi points scoring finish 6th on the tournament list with 16.3ppg.
In addition to averaging 10 points per game Broughton was ranked 7th for rebounding with 8.6 per game.
Under 16 Men – Jared Thornton, Mitchell Dance, Joseph Hylton, Logan McIntosh (North Harbour), Marvin Williams-Dunn (Waitakere), Tom Cowie (Southland), Ezrah Vaigafa (Wellington), Kainoa Lepou (Waikato), Morgan Trott (Taranaki), Shalom Broughton (Tauranga City)
The Women finished seventh with a 5-4 record a position that probably reflected their standing in the competition, the tier just outside the top two or three teams at the tournament.
Like the Men all the players had their moments in the sun but two players shone brightly when looking at the overall effort.
Auckland Counties Manukau forward Sharne Pupuke-Robati and Waikato guard Charlisse Leger-Walker were simply outstanding.
Shooting the ball a 3rd best 53% (48/91) in the tournament Pupuke-Robati averaged 12.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per outing.
Her 9.2 rebounds were identical to Leger-Walker and placed them equal 5th in the competition rankings.
Leger-Walker excelled in other areas leading the assists category (5.7apg), 3rd in steals (3.3spg) and third in scoring (16.2ppg).
Mention also for North Harbour guard Jordyn Maddix and Waikato’s Ella Bradley.
Maddix topped the three-point shooting list, converting 12 from 27, at 43% and Bradley shone in the last two games as she picked up 27 points, helping fill the void left by the absent Pupuke-Robati.
Under 16 Women – Charlisse Leger-Walker, Ella Bradley (Waikato), Gracie Hasler-Ewin, Jordyn Maddix, Rashaan Smith (North Harbour),
Caitlin O’Connell, Isabelle Cook (Taranaki), Briarley Rogers (Tauranga City), Rosalia Samia (Hawkes Bay), Sharne Pupuke-Robati (Auckland Counties Manukau),
The tournament formed part of the path towards qualifying for the FIBA U17 World Championships.
Mackay explained, “This tournament along with the NZ A tour to Melbourne last month helped showcase the abilities of twenty male and female players.
“All the players, both Men and Women, will have to come back and re trial for a spot in next year’s Under 17 teams that will participate in the World Championship Qualifying Tournament likely to be held in July.”
For the players and coaching staff the World Championship campaign is only just beginning.