The Men’s NCAA Division 1 class of 2023-24 sees 10 Kiwi athletes spread across 10 US Colleges, which is slightly down on the 2022-23 figure of 14.
Interestingly, there are no seniors amongst this number, with only the North Harbour duo of Taine Murray (University of Virginia) and Zach Riley (Fordham University) playing their third season (juniors) in Division I hoops this year.
Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones is also classed as a junior, but will be playing his first season of Division I basketball. The Wellington wing has earned a scholarship at the University of California San Diego, on the back of three standout seasons in NCAA Division II at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Stepping on the court for the first time will be freshmen Hunter Adam (Davidson College) and Tom Beattie (University of Hawaii) – the pair having played against each other in the 2022 Secondary Schools Grand Final, when Hunter’s Christ’s College triumphed over Beattie and Rosmini College.
Beattie is following a long line of Kiwis who have attended Hawaii University; including Isaac Fotu, Marty Winter and Tall Ferns Tania Tupu, Rebecca Dew, Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe and Ash Karaitiana.
Taine Murray and Ben Gold (Marquette University) have already played for the Tall Blacks. Will any other Division I athletes enhance their national team credentials in the coming season? We will soon find out with the new season opening on November 6.
*Note this list is of players known at the time of writing. It’s possible there may be some players absent from this list with players often moving, or travelling to the USA without publicising their plans, or may yet to be announced by teams.
Taine Murray (Junior at University of Virginia)
Murray has played 32 games for the Cavaliers, hitting a career-best 14 points against Iowa in November 2021. He made his Tall Blacks debut against Canada in Sydney in 2019, and was also part of the FIBA Asia Cup squad that earned bronze in 2022.
He finished his high school career with two Schools National championship titles with Rosmini College.
Stats: GP 32 | GS 8 | Points 66
Zach Riley (Junior at Fordham University)
Riley joined Fordham midway through the 2020-21 season, immediately after finishing high school at Rangitoto College. He scored a career-best 11 points against Maine in November, 2022.
He was named Youth Player of the Year in the 2021 NZNBL after averaging 11.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Auckland Huskies. Earlier this year he played in the U23 Nationals for Harbour, with his squad placing third overall and Zach earning tournament honurs.
Stats: GP 41 | Points 96
Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones (Junior at University of California, San Diego)
Tait-Jones transferred to UC San Diego after a successful three-year Division II stint with Hawaii at Hilo, where he earned selection to an All-PacWest Conference team in each of his three seasons. In 2022-23 he averaged 17.7ppg, 9.1rpg and almost 4 assists per game.
Ahmed Essahatay (Sophomore at Long Island University)
Essahatay joined Long Island mid-season last year, debuting in January 2023. In just his third game for LIU, he scored 10 points against Sacred Heart University. Formerly from Onslow College, Essahatay moved to Scots College before concluding his high school career at South Kent School, Connecticut.
Stats: GP 8 | GS 6 | Points 38
Tafara Gapare (Sophomore at Georgia Tech University)
Gapare played his freshman season at University of Massachusetts, making 30 appearances while leading the team in blocked shots (30) and scoring a season-high 15 points against Albany.
Formerly of Scots College, Gapare spent the 2021-22 academic year at South Kent’s Prep School, Connecticut. He played for New Zealand at the FIBA U15 Oceania Championships in Papua New Guinea in 2018.
Stats: GP 30 | Points 103
Ben Gold (Sophomore at Marquette University)
Featured in all 36 games for Marquette last season, as they reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament after being crowned Big East Conference Champions.
The former Tawa College wing completed his schooling by spending two years at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra – the first Kiwi to be invited to attend. He has made six Tall Blacks appearances since making his debut in 2022 – impressing with 15 points and 8 rebounds in the FIBA World Cup Qualifier against Jordan.
Stats: GP 36 | Points 96
Akiva McBirney-Griffin (Sophomore at University of California Irvine)
Redshirted the 2021-22 collegiate season before playing 29 games in his freshman season, as UCI clinched a share of the Big West Conference Regular Season title in 2022-23. A former Waikato and St John’s College, Hamilton forward, McBirney-Griffin played the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Otago Nuggets where we won an NBL championship in 2021.
Stats: GP 29 | GS 8 | Points 66
Mason Whittaker (Sophomore at American University)
Whittaker played 11 games in his freshman year in 2021-22, but missed the whole of the 2022-23 campaign due to injury. He attended Christ’s College, Christchurch and played both the 2020 and 2021 NBL season’s with the Canterbury Rams.
Basketball runs in the Whittaker family, with sister Charlotte on a basketball scholarship at the University of Colorado and Lauren a development player with the Mainland Pouakai in the Tauihi league.
Stats: GP 12 | Points 3
Hunter Adam (Freshman at Davidson College)
Adam concluded a successful junior career in 2022 by leading Christ’s College to the Secondary Schools National Championship, then taking Canterbury to the Aon U19 National Championship – claiming the MVP Award at both tournaments. He also made 12 appearances for the Canterbury Rams in the 2022 Sal’s NBL.
Tom Beattie (Freshman at University of Hawaii)
Beattie played 12 games for Auckland Tuatara in the 2023 Sal’s NBL, scoring a season-high 15 points against the Otago Nuggets. This year he was also a member of the North Harbour team that won the Aon U19 National Championship, with Beattie named to the Tournament Team. He also played for the Rosmini College team, who were beaten finalists at the 2022 Secondary Schools National Championship.