Earlier in the year we published a series of articles featuring “Kiwi Ballers Worldwide”. In this edition, we highlight the New Zealand players plying their trade in NBL1 in Australia – which tips off this weekend.
NBL1, Australia’s second-tier basketball competition sits below the Men’s (NBL) and Women’s (WNBL) National Leagues, is divided into five regional leagues for both men and women.
Across these regional leagues we have 22 Kiwis (14 women, 8 men) on opening night rosters; this includes an impressive eight Tall Ferns and four Tall Blacks.
NBL1 North – Women
Kendell Heremaia – Sunshine Coast Phoenix
Last year, Heremaia played for Whai in the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa – her rookie professional season after a distinguished college career at Fordham University.
She played 145 games in a 5-year career at Fordham University and sits second on the NZ Women’s all-time list for NCAA Division I games played behind Tegan Graham (153 games). She also sits 5th on the all-time scoring list after amassing 1,291 career points. In her senior year at Fordham, Heremaia set a programme record when she made 11 three-pointers in her career-high 35 points against Massachusetts.
Prior to college Kendell helped Waikato and St Peter’s School, Cambridge to numerous National Championship triumphs. She also made her Tall Ferns debut in 2022.
Ash Karaitiana – Southern District Spartans
Karaitiana returns to the Spartans after playing for the club in 2019 and 2021, also previously appearing in the Australian WNBL for Sydney University Flames, Bendigo Spirit and Melbourne Boomers (2020-21).
Karaitiana played four years at the University of Hawaii, making 121 appearances for the Rainbow Wahine and was named to the Big West Conference All-Freshman team in 2013. In 2016, she was MVP at the Big West Tournament where Hawaii were crowned Conference Champions. She finished her career with 1,167 points and led Hawaii in 3-pointers made for three straight seasons.
She has earned 20 Tall Ferns caps since debuting at the William Jones Cup in 2018, where she was named Tournament MVP after averaging 22 points per game.
Tsubasa Nisbett – Darwin Salties
Nisbett played for Mainland Pouākai in 2022 in the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa. Prior to this she enjoyed a four-year career at Georgia Sothern University (NCAA Division I), where she played 85 games for the Eagles and captained the team in her senior year (2021-22).
Nisbett is also an outstanding volleyball player, winning Secondary Schools National Championships when Burnside High School went back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.
Chevannah Paalvast – Logan Thunder
Paalvast enters her fourth season with the Thunder, having won an Australian WNBL championship at Townsville Fire in 2016 and the inaugural NBL1 North championship with Logan in 2021.
She played five years at Monmouth University, New Jersey graduating in 2014. She sits seventh all-time on the list of games played (121) for Monmouth and is one of just 17 Kiwi women to have scored over 1,000 NCAA Division I career points.
Paalvast has made 60 appearances for the Tall Ferns since her debut in 2015; going on to be part of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and a member of the Tall Ferns 3×3 Gold medal-winning team at the 2018 FIBA Asia Cup in China.
Qaizden Stephano – Red City Roar
A former Harbour representative, Stephano helped Takapuna Grammar School to reach the 2022 Secondary Schools National Championship. “Q” also played for the Samoa national team at the 2022 FIBA U18 Asian Championship in India.
Krystal Leger-Walker – Southern Districts Spartans
Leger-Walker boasts an outstanding career from Northern Colorado and Washington State; her 139 starting appearances hold the record for most starts by a Kiwi in Women’s or Men’s NCAA Division 1 Basketball. Following her 4-year college career, Krystal spent the 2022 season playing for the Northern Kahu in the Tauihi basketball league, and this year signed with the Townsville Fire in the NBL1 in Australia – her team is currently in the NBL1 grand finals.
A key part of the Tall Ferns Program, Krystal made her debut as a teenager and most recently added to her international career at the 2021 Asia Cup in Jordan as their starting point guard.
Leger-Walker comes from a well-known basketball family; her mother Leanne Walker is an experienced Tall Fern and two-time Olympian, sister Charlisse is another Tall Fern who recently led her Washington State University to a Pac-12 title in the NCAA. Her youngest sister Tannika (16) has also played for New Zealand at age group level.
NBL1 North – Men
Nikau McCullough – Rockhampton Rockets
McCullough makes the switch to NBL1 after helping the Otago Nuggets claim the Sal’s NBL championship in 2022, averaging 15ppg as their starting shooting guard.
He played two seasons at St Mary’s Rattlers in the NCAA from 2017-19, before appearing for the Franklin Bulls, Manawatu Jets and Nuggets in the NZ NBL. He made his Tall Blacks debut in 2022 in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, most recently suiting up against Saudi Arabia in February this year. McCullough is also a member of the 3×3 Tall Blacks that travelled to the 3×3 World Cup in Belgium last year.
Angus McWilliam – Rockhampton Rockets
Cantabrian forward McWilliam joins his first professional club with the Rockets alongside fellow Kiwi McCullough – making them the only Kiwi teammates in the competition. The former Junior Tall Black completed his American collegiate career in 2022 at University of California Riverside.
NBL1 East – Women
Jess Bygate – Norths Bears
Bygate will play her second season for the Bears and her eighth in Australia since playing for Nelson Sparks in 2015. She made 43 appearances for the Tall Ferns between 2013-2018 and was a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Tahlia Tupaea – Penrith Panthers
Tupaea averaged 18.2 points, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals for Northern Kāhu in 2022, and was named MVP of the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa for her efforts.
Penrith-born, with Tainui-Ngāti Tipa descent, Tupaea was the 36th pick by the Minnesota Lynx in the 2017 WNBA draft. She became the second-youngest debutant in the history of the Australian Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) when she took the court for the Sydney University Flames in 2012 at 15 years and 133 days. Two years later she was a key member of the Flames WNBL championship winning team.
NBL1 East – Men
James Hunter – Maitland Mustangs
Hunter will be playing his second season with the Mustangs, after averaged 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in 2022. He was an NBL Championship winner with the Southland Sharks in 2018 he also played for the Manawatu Jets in 2015.
Hunter also made nine appearances with the Tall Blacks in 2017.
Dylan Wilkie – Albury-Wodonga
The former Westlake Boys High and Harbour wing will make his NBL1 debut in 2023. Prior to this, he played seven games for the Franklin Bulls in 2021.
NBL1 South – Women
Micaela Cocks – Frankston Blues
Cocks played for Northern Kāhu in 2022 in the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa, named to the All-Star Five after averaging 17.4 points and 3.6 assists per game at 36 years of age.
The 2008 Olympian is the most capped Tall Fern of all time – having played 145 games in the black singlet – and is the only Tall Fern to have played at both the 2006 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, winning a silver medal in Melbourne and a bronze on the Gold Coast. She was also a member of the 2018 Tall Ferns 3×3 Gold medal-winning team at the FIBA Asia Cup in China.
Cocks took up a scholarship at University of Oregon immediately after the 2006 Commonwealth Games, playing 125 games in four seasons with the Ducks and scoring 1,195 points. She is a three-time Australian WNBL Championship winner with the Townsville Fire, playing 10 seasons with this club after debuting in 2011. Having relocated to Melbourne, Cocks is set to appear for the Blues for the first time.
Tylah Hooper – Melbourne Tigers
Hooper returns to the Tigers in 2023, having played for Mainland Pouākai in Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa last year. In 2022 she was named to the Tournament Team of the 2022 U19 National Championships, after helping Canterbury reach the Grand Final.
Morgan Ili (nee Hunter) – Sandringham Sabres
The husband and wife duo of Morgan and Shea Ili will play at the Sabres in 2023. The former Mt Albert Grammar standout played two years at Oregon Tech (NAIA), before playing the last two years at McKinnon Cougars in the BigV competition.
NBL1 South – Men
Shea Ili – Sandringham Sabres
The Aucklander has the distinction of winning seven Australian and New Zealand National Basketball League titles. His first New Zealand title was with Auckland Pirates in 2012 when still a teenager, and since then he has won championships in 2015 with the Southland Sharks and 2016, 2017 and 2019 with Wellington Saints. Ili has also won ANBL titles with the Breakers, for whom he played 100 games, in 2015 before claiming a further championship ring with Melbourne United in 2021.
Ili has made 53 appearances for the Tall Blacks since his debut in 2015. He was a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and was named to the Tournament Team at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup after averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 assists per game.
NBL1 Central – Women
Jordan Hunter – South Adelaide Panthers
Hunter is playing her third season for the Panthers and her eighth overall in South Australia. Prior to this, she won a WBC title in 2019 with Auckland Dream.
Hunter has made 50 appearances for the Tall Ferns between 2010-2018, and was a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
NBL1 Central – Men
Jett Thompson – Southern Tigers
The former Westlake Boys High point guard has played 33 games for the Frankin Bulls during the last two Sal’s NBL seasons. Prior this, he joined the 2020 NBL championship-winning Nuggets team in 2020 as an injury replacement.
Thompson played for New Zealand at the 2018 FIBA U15 Oceania Championship in Port Moresby, where New Zealand beat Australia 59-57 in pool play.
NBL1 West – Women
Olivia Berry – Goldfield Giants
Berry played for Northern Kāhu in 2022 in the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa, and went on to make her Tall Ferns debut later in the year.
She will be playing her second season overseas, having played one year in Canada at the University of Calgary (2015-16). Prior to this, she played at Rangitoto College with fellow Tall Ferns Ella Fotu, Brooke Blair and Penina Davidson.
Tessa Morrison – East Perth Eagles
Morrison has made the move to Western Australia after playing for Mainland Pouākai last year in the inaugural Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa.
A stalwart of Canterbury basketball in recent years, the Ashburton native made her Canterbury Wildcats debut as a 15 year-old – a member of both the 2016 and 2017 Wildcats WBC Championship winning teams. She played her NCAA Division II basketball at Southern New Hampshire University from 2016-2018.
Pania Davis – Rockingham Flames
Western Australian-raised Davis made her debut for the Flames in 2020 as a 17-year-old. The 6’6” forward went on to made her Tall Ferns debut in 2022, appearing in four friendly games.
NBL1 West – Men
Joe Cook-Green – Eastern Suns
Cook-Green returns for his second stint in Western Australia, having played for Kalamunda Eastern Suns in 2020. The former Otago Boys High School standout played the last two Sal’s NBL seasons for the Canterbury Rams – going on to make his Tall Blacks debut in 2022 when the squad travelled to Manila for a trio of FIBA World Cup Qualifier games.
Sioeli ‘Joel’ Vaiangina – Perth Redbacks
Vaiangina embarks on his third season in Australia, after he averaged 4.3 ppg and 3 rpg for the Franklin Bulls in the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown. He played First XV rugby at St Kentigern College as well as senior basketball.
The roster status of a number of other players are yet to be confirmed, including the following former Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns who played NBL1 in 2022.
Dion Prewster (Sandringham Sabres)
Josh Bloxham (Joondalup City Wolves)
Jonathan Janssen (Sunshine Coast Phoenix)
Natalie Taylor (Southern District Spartans)
Ashley Taia (Logan Thunder)
Penina Davidson (Cairns Dolphins).