Since touching down in Sydney late Thursday night, the Tall Ferns have been busy preparing themselves for their first test of the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup; a battle with Korea on Monday in the tournament’s opening game.
That preparation began with a friendly scrimmage against the Australian Opals – ranked #3 in the world – on Friday, which gave the Tall Ferns their first chance to test out their new-look squad on the court. The squad includes four new faces coming into the rotation following the Tall Fern’s five-game Europe Tour earlier in June, in Tahlia Tupaea, Parris Mason, Josie Trousdell and Esra McGoldrick.
Monday’s game versus world-ranked #12 Korea, presents an imposing first challenge for New Zealand. Korea brings in a strong squad anchored by 6’6” WNBA centre Ji Su Park, who recorded a triple-double – including 11 blocks – in a World Cup qualifier versus Brazil last year. Park is complimented by the offensive firepower of Leeseul Kang, as evidenced by her 37-point outburst against Bosnia and Herzegovina in last year’s FIBA Women’s World Cup.
New Zealand brings back three key players from the 2021 Women’s Asia Cup squad in Penina Davidson (a team-leading 15.4ppg and 8rpg) and sisters Charlisse and Krystal Walker-Leger. Charlisse is becoming a household name in New Zealand basketball following her NCAA campaign with the Washington State Cougars last season, and she’ll be supported by past Asia Cup veterans Stella Beck and Josie Trousdell in the rotation. Two other players to watch will be Tera Reed – who impressed during the Europe Tour – and newcomer Tupaea, who earned MVP honours in the Tauihi league last year.
For Australian-born Tupaea, this game will be the first time she wears the black singlet for New Zealand; a decision she did not make lightly.
“It’s been a bit of different story for me [playing for New Zealand], I was born and raised in Sydney Australia and played on the U19’s and U17’s junior national team for Australia,” says Tupaea.
“I went to a few Opals camps and was part of their wider squad for a few years, but didn’t make the team. I played in the Tauihi season last year, and then [Tall Ferns head coach] Guy Molloy rang me and he spoke about me coming to the Tall Ferns and how I could help the team. So I thought about it; I wasn’t too sure at the start because you can’t go back to Australia once you transfer so it was a big decision for me.
“What made it easier for me was that I had family in New Zealand, and I know my nana who passed away last year would be really proud of me [playing for New Zealand].”
Tupaea says she is proud to represent New Zealand and to play alongside her fellow Tall Ferns at this year’s FIBA Asia Cup.
“Being part of the Tall Ferns is really good for me, it kinda feels like I’m at home and with a family. Basketball is my passion as well so I feel at home when I’m playing basketball, but the chemistry in the group – and knowing a few of the girls like Tera and Krystal who I’ve known for almost 10 years – makes me feel really comfortable and everything is going well.
“Asia Cup is huge; it’s tough playing against tough teams like China, Korea and Japan, as they play a different style of basketball to what we’re used to. So I’m just going to play my role, be a facilitator, scorer or leader on the team – whatever the teams needs me to do.
“Korea is a fast team so ultimately it’ll come down to our defense, if we can lock in on defense then we can do well. We’re definitely known [on the world stage] as underdogs sometimes, but if we can stay together and work really hard it should be a good result.”
FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2023 – Tall Ferns Schedule:
Mon 26 June – Tall Ferns vs Korea, 1pm NZT
Tue 27 June – Tall Ferns vs China, 7pm NZT
Wed 28 June – Tall Ferns vs Lebanon, 1pm NZT
Tall Ferns Squad – FIBA Women’s Asia Cup 2023:
Stella Beck, 56 caps
Tayla Dalton, 5 caps
Penina Davidson, 57 caps
Grace Hunter, 5 caps
Charlisse Leger-Walker, 36 caps
Krystal Leger-Walker, 23 caps
Parris Mason, 0 caps
Esra McGoldrick, 7 caps
Tera Reed, 11 caps
Ritorya Tamilo, 4 caps
Josie Trousdell, 36 caps
Tahlia Tupaea, 0 caps