Despite some NCAA university basketball programmes and conferences being shelved because of Covid, there are still 17 Kiwi women playing Division I hoops.
There have been some neat cameos from the likes of Tayla Dalton (St Mary’s), Helen Matthews (Wofford College), Emme Shearer (Portland), Kaylee Smiler (BYU) and Charlotte Whittaker (Colorado), but it is New Zealand’s foremost collegiate players that have made the greatest impact this season.
Five players – Amiee Book, Kendall Heremaia, Charlisse Leger-Walker, Krystal Leger-Walker and Akiene-Tera Reed – all are starters for their respective teams and have consistently performed at an elite level.
Kendell Heremaia, a senior at Fordham University, already has an Atlantic-10 Conference title on her resume, with Fordham Rams crowned A-10 champions in 2019.
Vastly experienced, with over one hundred appearances for the Rams, Heremaia is closing in on 900 career points and 600 rebounds.
This season, she is second on Fordham’s scoring list (11.3ppg), third in rebounding (6.9rpg) and first in assists made (3.3apg).
Fellow senior, Krystal Leger-Walker, comes from the same Waikato and St Peter’s School basketball stable as Heremaia.
She redshirted last year after transferring to Washington State University from the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), where she won a Big Sky Conference championship in 2018 and averaged 8.8 points and a conference-high 5.5 assists per game.
Reunited with coach Kamie Ethridge, her mentor at UNC, Leger-Walker has been in sparkling form this season.
She amassed a career-high 25 points in a game against Colorado and is currently averaging 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and a team-high 4.4 assists after 10 outings for the Cougars.
The other aforementioned players share something unique in common – all three lead their teams in scoring this season.
Over the years some of our leading players have had outstanding college careers but it is safe to bet we have never had three New Zealand women topping the scoring list for Division 1 colleges in the same season!
The records of Aimee Book, Tera Reed and Charlisse Leger-Walker make impressive reading.
Book, daughter of former Tall Black Ed Book, is in her third year at California State University Fullerton.
She was named to the Big West Conference All-Freshman Team and last year she was third in scoring for the Titans (12.7ppg), but the Nelson product has taken a leap forward this season.
Book is averaging 15.6 points per game and has led the Titans scoring in all but one of the eight games they have played this season. She has a career three-point shooting percentage of 40%, but this season has bumped it to 48% (19/40).
That figure places her second in the Big West and 18th in all of Women’s Division I basketball for efficiency from beyond the arc.
It’s rare for a freshman to top the scoring list, but if anyone was going to do it, it would be Charlisse Leger-Walker.
Playing alongside sister Krystal, Charlisse has top scored in seven of Washington State’s ten games and she leads the Pac-12 Conference in scoring with a heady 19.7 points per game.
Underlining her all-round ability, she also leads the team in steals (3.0spg), is second on the assists list (4.0apg) and is pulling down the third most rebounds (5.5rpg). Her performances have earned her no fewer than four Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Awards.
The continued success Tera Reed has enjoyed at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has probably been understated. After all, she has topped VCU’s scoring charts in her previous three years averaging 13.8ppg as a freshman, 12.5 as a sophomore and 15.2 last season.
Reed looks set to make it a full house as she again leads the Rams’ offence at 14.6 points per game. In total, she has scored 1,330 points and sits 9th on VCU’s all-time scoring list.
The VCU captain was named to the Atlantic-10 All-First Team in 2018-19 and 2019-20, a hat-trick of top team selections looks on the cards.
With over two months of the current season remaining this outstanding quintet look likely to set a few more records and keep New Zealand basketball on the collegiate map.