The college basketball season has tipped off in the United States and more than 100 New Zealand men and women are currently in the United States on college basketball scholarships. Basketball New Zealand’s data says no fewer than 40 athletes (24 women and 16 men) at NCAA Division I universities.
In addition to the NCAA Division I players, a large number of Kiwis have scholarships at highly regarded NCAA Division II and III Universities, NAIA Universities and Junior Colleges, as well as universities in Canada and the Philippines. In total, Basketball New Zealand estimates almost 50 girls and almost 70 boys are playing scholarship basketball abroad across the US, Canada and the Philippines.
Earlier this year, a record eight Kiwis featured in the NCAA Big Dance,
which is the famous end of season championship tournament. The college season is just getting underway. We look at the Division I players from New Zealand in the 2018/19 season.
A quintet of past or present Tall Ferns are amongst the twenty-four Kiwi women playing NCAA Division I basketball this season. Zara Jillings, Krystal Leger-Walker, Katelin Noyer, Tera-Akiene Reed and Dru Toleafoa have all pulled on the black singlet for the New Zealand Women’s National team.
Reed debuted for the Tall Ferns at the William Jones Cup in July after impressing in her first year at Virginia Commonwealth University. Averaging 14 points per game, Reed became just the seventh freshman in programme’s history to lead VCU in season scoring. Reed also led VCU in scoring in 17 of its 29 games last season and recorded four games of 20 or more points, as well as four double-doubles.
Krystal Leger-Walker was a quiet achiever for Northern Colorado as the Bears wrapped up the Big Sky Conference title last season. She led the team in assists (110) and three-point shooting percentage (40.7%).
Toleafoa appeared in all 30 games and made 27 starts in her third year at Santa Clara. Meanwhile Noyer, who led Fresno State in blocked shots last season, will be missing from the Bulldogs lineup until early 2019 after recently undergoing foot surgery.
Zara Jillings had a solid freshman season for the Fordham Rams playing every game. Her college season was book-ended by Tall Ferns appearances at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup and Gold Coast Commonwealth Games this year. The Tall Ferns guard is one of three Kiwis on the Fordham roster, playing alongside 2016 Junior Tall Fern Kendell Heremaia and Mary Goulding.
McKenna Dale (Brown University) and Joellen How (Wagner College) were also 2016 Junior Tall Ferns and both enjoyed solid freshman seasons, as did Michelle Nicholls at La Salle University.
Sophmore Shalae Salmon played all 30 games for Brigham Young University and was the third highest rebounder and second leading shot blocker on the team.
Salmon will be one of three Kiwis on the BYU roster this season playing alongside Khaedin Taito and Kaylee Smiler.
Other Sophmores last year were Tegan Graham who played all 30 games for Colgate University and Tall Ferns trialist Kayla Manuirirangi who started in 26 of Tulane University’s 31 games in 2017-18. Matangiroa Flavell has moved to Houston Baptist University after graduating from Midland Junior College.
Tyler King is about to begin her senior year at University of Pacific. In contrast the following are all about to embark on their freshman seasons in the States.
Amiee Book (California State Fullerton), Esra McGoldrick (North Carolina State), Tsauba Nisbett (Georgia Southern), Pareunora Pene (Tennessee Chattanooga), Sariah Penese (Maryland, Baltimore County) and Amy West (Liberty) will all be suiting up for the first time for their respective teams this month.
Seven of the sixteen Division I players are freshmen, embarking on their first playing season, when any playing minutes are to be cherished as the adjustment from school basketball to the greater demands of college basketball are a priority.
Dan Fotu debuted for the Tall Blacks earlier in the year and he has headed to St Mary’s College of California, along with Quinn Clinton. St Mary’s famous alumni include outstanding NBA guards Patty Mills and Mathew Dellavedova.
Clinton is one of seven members of the New Zealand Junior Tall Blacks that attended the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup in Egypt that have taken up scholarship opportunities in the USA.
Callum McRae has headed to the University of California Riverside, Angus McWilliam to Texas Christian University (TCU) and the Cameron brothers Flynn and Tobias to DePaul and Abilene Christian College respectively.
The freshman contingent is rounded out by Waitakere guard Taki Fahrensohn attending the University of Portland.
Sam Waardenburg and Isaac Letoa were also members of the New Zealand U19 World Cup team. They are both into their second year’s (Sophmores) at college – Letoa at prestigious Ivy League school Dartmouth and Waardenburg at Miami.
Yuat Alok and Jackson Stent both embark on their Division I careers after completing two years at junior colleges. Alok has joined Angus McWilliam at the Jamie Dixon coached TCU and Stent is at Houston Baptist University.
The other Juniors (third-year players) are Matt Freeman, Yanni Wetzell, Sam Timmins and Izayah Mauriahooho-Le’afa.
Timmins is at Washington and Le’afa, also with Tall Black history, is at Sacramento State. Freeman is at Oklahoma and Wetzell, after transferring from St Mary’s Texas, suits up for Vanderbilt.
Jack Salt, who played for the Tall Blacks in the June Olympic Qualifying window, is in his final season at Virginia University where he will captain the Tony Bennett coached Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers are expected to once again be a top ranked team with the prospects for TCU, Vanderbilt and Washington also looking promising.
Basketball New Zealand High Performance Director Leonard King is delighted with the growing number of New Zealand athletes obtaining scholarships.
“I’m very proud of all the players that are in the US, and pleased for them and their families. It was a goal of many New Zealand players to be one day good enough to obtain an opportunity to play basketball in the US. For those currently in programmes, not only are they playing basketball in America, but they are on scholarships, which is helping remove the financial burden for their families which they incur when their kids are studying.
“It’s great to have our kids in systems where they are training every day, lifting weights and getting stronger every day, learning more about the game, learning more about themselves, and achieving a degree at the same time. It also helps their development, which often assists in the growth of future Tall Ferns and Tall Blacks.
“I have to say a lot of the growth can be attributed to the partnership we have established with Custom College Recruiting
(CCR). I think CCR have been fantastic in pushing our players and putting them in front of college coaches so they can get the right exposure to achieve those scholarships.
“Next year we are going to try and align our junior national programmes with some college opportunities where our kids will get even more exposure. It’s part of our player pathway and we embrace that,” added King.
CCR have been Basketball New Zealand’s preferred recruiting agency for a number of years. CCR Founder and CEO Shane Howard is delighted with the special relationships that his organization have been able to forge in the New Zealand basketball community.
“Custom College Recruiting have been around for nearly five years and we have had the opportunity to help more Kiwis come to the States and play college basketball than anyone else in the world.
“I can tell you without a doubt the number of players that are living out their dreams would not be what it is today without Basketball New Zealand, the local and regional clubs and associations, and all the people volunteering their time to support us and the many young adults over the years. The future is bright for the game in this country because of them,” enthused Howard.