The Deakin Melbourne Boomers seem to be targeting New Zealand Sky Sport Tall Ferns with their latest signing of Ashleigh Karaitiana for the 2020 Australian Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, when Tall Ferns Head Coach Guy Molloy also heads the Boomers. Karaitiana’s signing takes Tall Ferns contingent at Melbourne to five as she joins Stella Beck, Penina Davidson, Kalani Purcell and Toni Farnworth at the Boomers.

“Obviously we have formed a strong synergy between the Sky Sport Tall Ferns and Deakin Melbourne Boomers,” said Molloy.

“The cultural values and playing style is very similar. Since the only firm date in our international calendar in 2021 is the Asia Cup in September, the Tall Ferns quest to qualify for the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Australia in 2022 could be made difficult by lack of opportunity to get the players together.

“So, this is a great example where our synergy can really help both programmes. I would like to congratulate BBNZ, who have worked with the Boomers through this most challenging time, to support the Tall Ferns players,” he added.

Karaitiana admits a couple of key factors swayed her decision to join the Boomers but linking up again with the Tall Ferns mentor was an easy decision.

“I absolutely love Guy as a coach, so when I received a call from him, it was a no brainer for me.

“I’ve heard so many great things about the team culture and am really looking forward to being part of it. I also love the colour purple!”

Besides the obvious goal on everyone’s mind to walk away with a championship, Karaitiana wants nothing more to prove that women can do anything!

As mother to 17-month-old daughter, Kalea, the Boomers have fully supported Karaitiana’s return to the WNBL – Kalea will be travelling with the team this season.

“Coming back to the WNBL after having a baby and being able to still compete at this level, as well as on the international floor with the Tall Ferns, is a massive achievement.

Even though a path to success sometimes may have to change and adapt to reach a goal, the Waikato native is determined to set an example.

“My hope is to show other women/athletes that it is possible to continue living your dream.”

On the condensed hub-style season, Karaitiana is happy that the league is able to take to the court. She admits, “We are all going to face adversity and challenges but at the end of the day, I’m grateful that we can all come together and be back on the floor playing the game that we all love!”

Karaitiana’s off-season hasn’t been straight-forward, but living in Queensland has meant she’s been able to compete in the Queensland State League (QSL) for RedCity Roar.

The Roar bowed out at the quarter-final stage of the QSL play-offs although Karaitiana had enjoyed an outstanding season averaging 21 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

That good form caught the eye of Molloy.

“Ash is a tough and highly respected player in Australian basketball circles. With the unique set of circumstances surrounding the upcoming season, the short timeframe and Ash having played in QSL, it worked both for Ash and the Deakin Melbourne Boomers to bring her in.”

Not long before the QSL season began she’d had to return to Australia when New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) season was cancelled due to COVID-19.

“I was initially going to play in the NZNBL this year to help promote basketball in New Zealand. It wasn’t long before season was cancelled, and I immediately came back to Brisbane.

“In saying that, I think I’ve been pretty lucky living in Queensland. Having the luxury to go out and do somewhat normal things have been great including still being able to play basketball during the off-season.”

The 183cm forward’s favourite things to do in her spare time include spending time with family.

“Kalea challenges Matt and I to be better every single day. You’ll usually find us in the swimming pool, at the park, or on the couch watching some Disney movies.

“Sometimes we manage to plan a sneaky date night when my parents can watch Kalea too.”

Karaitiana was a standout NCAA player having played four years at the University of Hawaii making 121 appearances for the Rainbow Wahine. 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 went on to make her Tall Ferns debut at the 2018 William Jones Cup she was named Tournament MVP after averaging 22 points per game.

Last November Karaitiana scored 17 points against China at 2019 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Auckland.

Beck, Davidson, Purcell and Farnworth all played alongside Karaitiana at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Now the quintet are preparing for the WNBL season which tip’s-off on November 12 with the season to be played over six weeks in a North Queensland hub.

The 56-game regular season, plus a four game final series, will see games played in Townsville, Cairns and Mackay.

With the start of the season imminent Molloy admits preparation is far from ideal.

“Right now, our greatest challenge has been not being able to prepare the team together.

“Ezi Magbegor has been with Seattle winning a WNBA championship, whilst Cayla George, Kalani and Ash have all been kept in Queensland intentionally due to the Covid situation in Melbourne.

“So, whilst the hub will create its own challenges I have to leverage on the knowledge the players have of our game style to quickly form a cohesive group before games begin.”

Another challenge that Molloy faces is being able to keep tabs on two Leagues simultaneously.

The Australian WNBL will be played from November 12 – December 20 whilst the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 begins on November 19 with the Grand Final scheduled for December 5.

“I’m really pleased that the clubs and BBNZ could collaborate to provide a New Zealand NBL season. The players and coaches absolutely need something to focus on and set goals about.

“I hope to see as many of the games as possible on live stream so I can continue to evaluate and select for Tall Ferns. I am looking for players who demonstrate superior fitness, aggressive play, are great teammates and lead by example.

“Travel permitting, I am hoping to be in New Zealand around February to work extensively with many of the junior and emerging Tall Ferns players.

“We are steadily climbing the world rankings, and although COVID has hurt our momentum, I hope we can reclaim it as quickly as possible,” Molloy added.

Plenty to play for then on both sides of the ditch.