We’re nearly at the end of our Kiwi Ballers Worldwide series, which explores the myriad of basketball pathways that young Kiwis choose to pursue around the world.
Next we focus on the New Zealanders who are currently plying their trade in the Australian Leagues for the 2022/23 season.
On the women’s side there are currently three kiwis playing in the Australian WNBL, with three more – Kalani Purcell (Sydney Flames), Mary Goulding (Bendigo Spirit) & Talia Tupaea (Canberra Capitals) – who were all signed on for 2022-23, but due to injury / personal reasons have withdrawn from this season’s competition.
In the Australian NBL, 17 men are currently on the rosters for the 2022/23 season – including seven Kiwis in the NZ Breakers side. Interestingly, almost all of these players – the exceptions being Perth Wildcat’s Development Player, Jack Andrew and Sam Waardenburg from the Taipans – have played for the Tall Blacks, with 12 of these players seeing national team action this year alone.
Australian WNBL (Women’s)
Penina Davidson – Melbourne Boomers
Davidson began her professional career playing for Adelaide Lightning in the Australian WNBL in 2018. She signed with Melbourne last season, winning a championship with the Boomers alongside fellow Kiwi Lauryn Hippolite. She debuted for the Tall Ferns as a teenager in 2013 and has since made 53 international appearances. At the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in Jordan, Davidson led NZ in scoring (15.4ppg) and rebounding (8.0rpg); her 26 point haul against Chinese Taipei usurping Jillian Harmon’s 23 points as the highest single-game points tally for NZ at the Asia Cup.
After graduating from Rangitoto College, Davidson completed a four-year scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley in 2018. She played a total of 130 games for the Golden Bears and started all 64 games in her final two years.
Lauryn Hippolite – Melbourne Boomers
Hippolite played all 13 games for Mainland Pouākai in the inaugural 2022 Tauihi season. That campaign was sandwiched in between two Australian WNBL seasons with the Melbourne Boomers as a Development Player, winning a championship last season alongside Penina Davidson. Hippolite also debuted for the Tall Ferns against Japan at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup in Jordan – making a three with her first shot – and was part of the Tall Ferns squad that played a series of friendly matches against WNBL teams in October.
Originally from Nelson, Hippolite concluded her high school years at Middleton Grange School in Christchurch. She went to play NCAA Division II basketball at Hawaii Pacific University in 2018-19 before embarking on study – and a basketball scholarship – at Lincoln University.
Krystal Leger-Walker – Townsville Fire
Leger-Walker played all 14 games for Tauihi championship runners-up, Northern Kāhu in the inaugural 2022 season. Leger-Walker is now playing her first Australian WNBL season with Townsville Fire.
Following championship-winning success with Waikato and St Peter’s School, Cambridge, Leger-Walker embarked on a American collegiate career. Playing 88 games in three seasons at Northern Colorado, she helped guide the Bears to the Big Sky Tournament Conference title in 2018. She then enjoyed two productive years at Washington State, leading the Cougars to consecutive appearances at the NCAA Tournament while playing alongside sister Charlisse. In total she racked up 142 collegiate games, making 139 starts – a record for the most starts by a Kiwi in women’s or men’s NCAA Division I basketball. Krystal first played for the Tall Ferns as a 16 year-old back in 2014, then resumed her international career at the 2021 Asia Cup – playing a total of 18 games in the black singlet.
Australian NBL (Men’s)
New Zealand Breakers
Tom Abercrombie – NZ Breakers
Following his time at Westlake Boys High School, Abercrombie spent two years at Washington State University before signing with the NZ Breakers. He has since gone on to play 15 seasons with the Breakers and is the club’s all-time leading scorer, and is one of only three players to have played on all four Breakers Australian NBL championship-winning teams.
He was a member of the Tall Blacks bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games where he led NZ in scoring with 17.4ppg – scoring 26 points in the bronze medal game versus Scotland. In total, Abercrombie has made 110 Tall Blacks appearances since his debut in 2006 and has played at three FIBA World Championships – 2010, 2014 and 2019.
He has also won NZ NBL titles with the Waikato Pistons (2009) and Wellington Saints (2019).
Daniel Fotu – NZ Breakers
Coming out of Rangitoto College – where he won back-to back Secondary Schools National Championships in 2015 and 2016 – and Harbour Basketball, Fotu played NCAA Division I at Saint Mary’s College California. In 126 games for the Gaels in his four-year career, Fotu scored 728 points – which ranks 9th all-time for points scored by a Kiwi in Men’s NCAA Division I basketball.
Fotu is currently in his first season with the NZ Breakers in the Australian NBL, following his pro debut with the Auckland Tuatara in the Sal’s NBL last season. He debuted for the Tall Blacks in 2018 and played in the recent internationals against Lebanon and Jordan, with his sister Ella Fotu a Tall Fern and brother Isaac a current Tall Black.
Rob Loe – NZ Breakers
Now in his sixth season with the NZ Breakers, Loe has played over 100 games for the club. He has also played overseas in Australia, Belgium, Greece and Japan, as well as multiple seasons in the NZ NBL – winning a title with the Saints in 2019 and playing for Grand Finalists Auckland Tuatara last season, where he averaged 17.1ppg & 11.5 rebounds per game while garnering MVP consideration.
In 2009, while in his final year at Westlake Boys, Loe performed outstandingly at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Auckland. At just 17 years – the youngest member of the team – he led the Junior Tall Blacks in scoring averaging 18.8ppg. He then made his Tall Blacks debut the same year, cementing his place as the starting centre at both the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and the 2019 event in China. He was also a member of the bronze medal winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, averaging 9.4ppg and 5.0rpg.
Low also spent four years at St Louis University in the NCAA, playing 133 games for the Billikens – the most Men’s NCAA Division 1 appearances ever by a Kiwi.
Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa – NZ Breakers
Le’afa currently plays for the NZ Breakers following two seasons with South East Melbourne Phoenix. He made his Tall Blacks debut at just 16 years old – and while still a student at St Pat’s College – in 2012, also appearing in a World Cup qualifier game in 2022. Following high school he enjoyed an outstanding career at Sacramento State University, finishing his four years as a top 10 statistical leader in a variety of categories including 2nd in starts (108), 4th in steals (149), 6th in 3-pointers made (187) and 8th in assists (302). Le’afa also played three seasons in the NZNBL for the Wellington Saints (2013-2015), winning a championship in 2014, and also a season with the Auckland Huskies in 2020.
Alex McNaught – NZ Breakers
The tenacious point guard is in his first season with the New Zealand Breakers as a Development Player. McNaught was the leading scorer for his St Kentigern College team that won the 2019 Secondary Schools National Championship, before going on to debut for the Nelson Giants in 2020 while still in school – racking up 38 appearances in the NZ NBL and gaining a reputation as a fierce defensive presence. He also made his Tall Blacks debut against Lebanon in November this year, scored five points.
Sam Timmins – NZ Breakers
Timmins first joined the NZ Breakers in 2021-22 as a Development Player, and was elevated to a full contract this season. He has also spent several years in the NZ NBL, first playing for the Otago Nuggets as a 15-year old in 2013, before returning to the club In 2021 and going on to win the NBL championship in 2022. He has also made appearances for the Canterbury Rams and Franklin Bulls.
In 2014, he was named Tournament MVP as Otago Boys High School claimed the Secondary Schools National title. Following high school, Timmins played four years of NCAA Division I basketball at the University of Washington, suiting up for 128 games for the Huskies. Timmins debuted for the Tall Blacks in 2017 and has played 12 games in the black singlet – including back-to-back Asia Cup appearances.
Tom Vodanovich – NZ Breakers
The Wellingtonian forward is currently with the NZ Breakers, a team he first played for between 2018 and 2020. Vodanovich’s 100th NBL game came rather fittingly against the Sydney Kings, where he won a championship with last season. Vodanovich also played for the Wellington Saints in the NZNBL in 2022, having previously played for Southland Sharks (2018-19, winning a championship in 2018), Manawatu Jets (2020) and Auckland Huskies (2021). He was named NBL MVP in 2021, when he averaged 21.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game as he carried the Manawatu Jets to the 2020 Grand Final.
He played NCAA Division I at James Maddison University in Virginia, where he played 120 games for the Dukes (2013-17). Vodanovich debuted for the Tall Blacks in 2017, playing eight games in the black singlet – including a trio of games in Window 1 of the World Cup Qualifiers this year, where he was the team’s leading scorer.
Hyrum Harris – Adelaide 36ers
Harris is currently in his second season playing for the Adelaide 36ers, having previously played for Illawarra Hawks (2019-20) and Cairns Taipans (2020-21). He has played the past two NZ NBL seasons with the Bay Hawks, while also having played for the Super City Rangers, Southland Sharks and Manawatu Jets – scoring 22 points in the NBL Grand Final defeat to the Saints in 2021.
After leaving Fraser High School, Harris played at Umpqua Community College, Oregon for a year. He debuted for the Tall Blacks earlier in 2022 against India and Philippines, also playing in the recent international games against Lebanon and Jordan.
Tyrell Harrison – Brisbane Bullets
The Australian-raised Kiwi is in his sixth season with the Brisbane Bullets. Prior to this he played a season in the NZ NBL in 2019, averaging 13.1 ppg and 6.2 rebounds for the Nelson Giants – his efforts earning him NBL Youth Player of the Year. Harrison debuted for the Tall Blacks in 2018, playing two games in the FIBA World Cup Asia Qualifiers.
Sam Waardenburg – Cairns Taipans
Waardenburg is in his first year of professional basketball with the Cairns Taipans, following a successful US college career with the University of Miami – the 6’10” forward appearing in 118 games (69 starts) over four years and racking up over 700 points and 500 rebounds for the Hurricanes.
Hailing from Auckland, Waardenburg has enjoyed a storied career at the school level. He was named to the Tournament team as North Harbour won the U15 National Championship in 2013, then was chosen as Tournament MVP in 2015 after leading Harbour to the National U17 title. In 2015 & 2016 he won back-to-back titles with Rangitoto College at the National Secondary Schools National Championship, winning Tournament MVP in his second year. On the national stage, he played for NZ at the FIBA U16 Championship in 2015, then averaged 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds at the FIBA U18 Oceania Championship in Fiji in 2016. He also appeared for NZ at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Egypt in 2017.
Shea Ili – Melbourne United
Ili is currently playing his 9th season in the Australian NBL – and his 4th with Melbourne United – having previously played for the NZ Breakers, winning a championship with the former in 2021 and with the latter in 2015. He also has the distinction of winning three consecutive NZ NBL titles, with the Southland Sharks in 2015 and 2016 and with the Wellington Saints in 2017. He also added a fourth title in 2019, again with the Saints.
Out of Onehunga High School, Ili played his junior rep basketball for Counties Manukau. He debuted for the Tall Blacks in 2013 and was a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games – averaging 13.2ppg and 4.6apg. He was also named in the Tournament Team at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup, after an outstanding tournament in which he averaged 15.4 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Jack Andrew – Perth Wildcats
The 208cm forward is currently playing for the Perth Wildcats in the Australian NBL, having won NZ NBL championships with the Otago Nuggets in 2020 and 2022. Hailing from Twizel, Andrew finished school at St Kevin’s College, Oamaru in 2019, who were runners-up in the 2019 ‘A’ Secondary Schools National final – with Andrew named to the Tournament Team.
Corey Webster – Perth Wildcats
Currently with the Perth Wildcats, Webster played 11 seasons with the NZ Breakers – winning three NBL championship rings as one of their most storied players. He currently sits 4th on the Breakers all-time scoring list after amassing 2,664 points in 236 appearances. Webster has won three NZ NBL championships with the Wellington Saints, and most recently played in the league with the Franklin Bulls this year.
After leaving Westlake Boys High School, Webster spent a year at Lambuth University, Tennessee (NAIA) before signing with the Breakers. In 2017 he played six games for the Dallas Mavericks at the NBA Summer League, and has also played overseas in Serbia, Greece, Israel, China, Italy and Egypt. Webster made his Tall Blacks debut in 2008 and has gone on to made 92 appearances in the black singlet, including earlier this year in a World Cup Qualifier game versus Philippines. He has previously led the Tall Blacks in scoring at both the 2014 FIBA World Cup (13.7ppg) and the 2019 World Cup in China (22.8ppg).
Anzac Rissetto – South East Melbourne Phoenix
Rissetto is in his first season in the Australian NBL with South East Melbourne Phoenix, having previously played three seasons in the NBL – Wellington Saints (2019), Nelson Giants (2021) and Franklin Bulls this past season. After graduating from Auckland Grammar School, Rissetto played 11 games for the NBL championship-winning Saints in 2019 before heading to the States where he played 33 games for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (NCAA Division I) over two seasons.
He was the NZ’s leading rebounder at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina, averaging 8.9rpg and also scored 6.3ppg, and made his Tall Blacks debut against Lebanon in November 2022. Fun fact: his aunty Brenda Ellison (nee Roberts) played over 50 games for the Tall Ferns between 1982 and 1988.
Tohi Smith-Milner – South East Melbourne Phoenix
After graduating from Rosmini College, Smith-Milner attended Polk State College, Florida for one year. He joined Melbourne United in 2015 as a Development Player and played five seasons with this club – winning a championship in 2018. He has played the last two years with the Phoenix. Smith-Milner is also a NZ NBL Championship winner with the Wellington Saints in 2021, in addition to having had stints with Canterbury Rams, Nelson Giants, Auckland Huskies and the Super City Rangers.
He made his Tall Blacks debut as a teenager in 2014, going on to play at both the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China and 2018 Commonwealth Games which won bronze. More recently he was an outstanding player for the bronze medal-winning Tall Blacks team at the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup in Indonesia; named to the All-Star 5 after his 25-point, 7-10 triple effort in the bronze medal game against Jordan.
Reuben Te Rangi – South East Melbourne Phoenix
Still only aged 28, Te Rangi is already playing his 11th season in the Australian NBL after playing his junior basketball for Counties Manukau and Auckland Grammar School. He joined the NZ Breakers in 2012, winning NBL titles with the club in both 2013 and 2015. He then played four seasons for the Brisbane Bullets and is now in his third season with South East Melbourne Phoenix.
He played his first season in the NZ NBL for the Harbour Heat as a 17 year old and has since played for Super City Rangers, Southland Sharks, Canterbury Rams and Wellington Saints – winning championships with the Sharks in 2013 and Saints in 2019. Te Rangi made his Tall Blacks debut in 2013 and has since played for New Zealand on 49 occasions; he was a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, averaging 6.1ppg.
Walter Brown – Tasmania JackJumpers
Out of St Bede’s College, Christchurch, Brown is currently playing his first season in the Australian NBL with the Tasmania Jack Jumpers. Prior to this he has played two seasons with the Canterbury Rams, averaging 7.2 points per game in 14 appearances in 2022. Brown played his way through the Canterbury age-group teams, and was a member of Canterbury’s 2021 U19 National Championship-winning team. He made his Tall Blacks debut versus Jordan in November this year.
NBL (Men’s and Women’s)
As the Australian NBL1 men’s and women’s leagues are currently out of season – with their 2023 season set to commence in March next year – we haven’t included any Kiwi players who are part of these squads as rosters haven’t been announced.
But there are plenty of Kiwi names in the mix for next season, including past and present Tall Ferns such as Natalie Taylor, Chevannah Paalvast, Pania Davis and Ash Taia. And in the Men’s NBL, Elijah Puna and Taine Wattie are some of the Kiwis who suited up in this league last season.
Check out other articles in our ‘Kiwi Ballers Worldwide’ series: