A total of twelve overseas based New Zealanders attended the Under 19 and Under 17 Selection Camps held in Auckland last weekend. From speaking with Jackson Smyth and Emilee Tahata, it’s clear they have no doubts about their heritage and where their allegiance lies.
Smyth and Tahata were both born in New Zealand, but moved to Australia when very young.
Emilee has made the trip across the Tasman from her home in Brisbane five or six times (she forgets exactly how many) and has already worn the black singlet. Last year she helped New Zealand to a silver medal at the 3x3 U18 Asia Cup in Taiwan and earlier in the year was one of the youngest members of the Kiwi team at the Women’s U17 World Cup in Belarus.
“It was a crazy experience going to the World Cup. Even if you are not getting that much court time it is still crucial to bring energy and support for the other girls.
“It was just completely another level and also being bottom age I need to work on my fitness, being quicker and also being more confident – I was so nervous.
“The experience has made me hungry to attend another World Cup and win a medal, but obviously I have to make the Under 17 team first.
“Another of my goals is go to a World Cup and beat Aussie,” Emilee said with a wry smile.
The 16 year-old, who attends Woodcrest State College, plays her club basketball for Ipswich Force and, although good enough to make the Queensland State team, always had desires to play for New Zealand.
“I had to make a choice between playing for Queensland and New Zealand, but I was born in New Zealand and both my parents are Kiwis so there was never any doubt. I’ve always wanted to play for New Zealand.
“Mum is from Gisborne, which is where I was born, and Dad is from Rotorua. I also played netball for Queensland, but ever since taking up basketball as an eight year-old it is the game that has become my sport of choice.
“In the future I want to play for the Tall Ferns and go to college in the States, but right now my priority is to make the Under 17 team and reward my parents who have made a big financial commitment paying for me to attend these camps and represent New Zealand.”
In contrast Jackson was attending his first selection camp, but like Emilee was in no doubt which country he wants to represent.
“Dad actually played a little bit with Lindsay, along with the Pero Cameron, Phil Jones, Dillon Boucher and a number of other famous New Zealand players.
“Dad is from Auckland and Mum’s from Rotorua, so I was always going to try and play for New Zealand.”
At the camp Jackson noticed a difference in style of play compared to Australia.
“Here the game seems is a lot more physical whereas in Sydney there is more emphasis on skill.
“I started playing miniball when I was aged four and have played ever since. I’ve played for Manly Warringah Sea Eagles since I was 12 and now play for their Under 18 in the first division of the New South Wales Junior Metro League.
“I’ve also been selected for the State Performance Programme (SPP) that brings the top 20 players in each age-group together for additional training every week.”
Jackson is talented enough to have been selected for the highly regarded Under 16 NSW Metro team in 2017 but unfortunately didn’t take the court.
“I broke my ankle in a NSW training session. A big 6’4” dude landed on my foot, I fell backwards and my leg gave way, it was hugely disappointing to miss out on playing for New South Wales.”
Jackson doesn’t model his play on anyone in particular but does have a couple of players he likes and respects.
“I admire Derrick Rose because he has had to overcome injuries which is something I have had to deal with. I also like Patty Mills. He came to train with us at an SPP session on one occasion – he’s pretty good!”
Once school has finished, Jackson attends SCECGS Redlands. He wants to follow in his father’s foot-steps and gain a basketball scholarship in the States.
“Dad went to Southern Oregon University so sitting my SAT’s and ensuring my school grades are good, are important as I would definitely like to go to college,” he added.
Emilee and Jackson are amongst a growing number of Kiwi players living overseas, but committed to the black singlet. Both will be hoping to be invited to the next Selection Camp in April.