Sky Sport Tall Ferns head coach, Guy Molloy has today named an extended 18-person squad for the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup which tips off in Sydney from 26 June 2023 – which is set to feature some of the brightest names in Kiwi women’s basketball.
The squad includes: Stella Beck, Tayla Dalton, Penina Davidson, Mary Goulding, Kendell Heremaia, Lauryn Hippolite, Ash Kelman-Poto, Charlisse Leger-Walker, Krystal Leger-Walker, Parris Mason, Chevannah Paalvast, Tera Reed, Ash Taia, Lilly Taulelei, Ritorya Tamilo, Josie Trousdell, Tahlia Tupaea and Amy West.
With a mix of players experienced on the world stage, alongside athletes in the early stages of their national team career and others looking to wear the black jersey for the first time, the Tall Ferns have signalled their intention to field a competitive squad for this key event.
A top four finish for New Zealand at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup ensures them entry into the Olympic Qualifiers in February 2024, which is one step closer to their ultimate goal: a place at the 2024 Paris Olympics for the first time since 2004.
Veterans Davidson, Paalvast, Beck and Trousdell bring a combined 200 games of Tall Ferns experience between them, with all four athletes appearing at previous Asia Cup tournaments. Davidson was last year named MVP at the BBNZ Awards for the second straight year, with her and Trousdell looking to hold down an otherwise youthful frontcourt that includes Mason and Taulelei – who both made their Tall Ferns debuts last October.
Another stand-out name is Charlisse Leger-Walker, who recently earned tournament MVP honours after leading the Washington State Cougars to its first-ever Pac-12 tournament title in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. She will be joined by her sister Krystal, who already has 18 Tall Ferns caps under her belt and was recently announced for her 3×3 Asia Cup debut with the 3×3 Tall Ferns.
A surprise addition to the squad is guard Tahlia Tupaea, who claimed MVP of the inaugural Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa in 2022 while playing for Northern Kahu. Tupaea was able to be successfully re-classified to play for New Zealand – after previously representing Australia at the U17 and U19 level – which puts her in line to wear the Tall Ferns jersey for the first time.
Also in contention for their first senior national team call-up is 17-year-old centre Tamilo – who led all tournament players in blocks (3.1 bpg) at the U17 Women’s World Cup in Hungary last year – and Kelman-Poto, who sat out the 2021 Asia Cup due to injury. Dalton, who currently plays alongside West at St Mary’s College, is also in line to make her debut.
Prior to the FIBA Asia Cup, this extended squad of 18 will be trimmed down to a final travelling squad of 12 athletes.
Coach Molloy says that the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup being held in Australia is an obvious advantage for the Tall Ferns.
“It’s fantastic from a travel perspective as it’s a short flight over the ditch and we’re ready to go, and it also opens up an opportunity to work with Basketball Australia around some practice games against the Opals ahead of this event,” says Molloy.
Coach Molloy also weighed in on the makeup of the Tall Ferns squad, its 2021 Asia Cup run and the importance of this tournament as a pathway to the 2024 Olympics.
On being prepared:
“Looking back at the 2021 Asia Cup, it was another weird, Covid-affected situation for us, where we were limited in our ability to get together as a team prior to the event. We had a lot of zooms for the players in New Zealand and Australia to talk about the playing structure, and when we arrived in Jordan we only had a few days of preparation before facing other teams that were fresh off of the [Tokyo] Olympics. It was the first time that group had played together, with no real preparation and we weren’t well conditioned – despite this I thought we had an admirable performance and showed heart.”
“By contrast [in 2023] we’ll have two Tall Ferns preparation camps, one in May after the college players return and one possibly in early June. Both are critical for us and the squad. Last October we took a development team to Australia and I felt that was really beneficial for our athletes, so these two camps will be about revisiting our style of play and building on our structure. Our goal is to get a number of international games for the squad on the back of these two camps, and then we’ll be able to hit the Asia Cup itself with some momentum.”
On the Squad of 18:
“I’m very pleased with the continued emergence internationally of Charlisse [Leger-Walker] and that’s as much around her poise and decision-making as it is her skill-set. She’s a combo guard and I like having the ball in her hands because she’s such a good shooter and passer of the ball. The way we play her [in the Tall Ferns] is quite different to how she plays in college, so it takes a bit of adjustment time for all of us – but I was really pleased just with how she came in last year and quickly adjusted to what we wanted, she was a stand-out, so it’s great that her and Krystal have both made themselves available for this series.”
“Last October we put some young, very athletic bigs out on the floor when we played four games against WNBL sides in Melbourne. These players were always going to be in the deep end, especially against WNBL professionals, but it was exciting to see how well they performed. We didn’t have two mainstays of our frontline in Penina or Kalani available, so I was heartened by how hard those girls competed and acquitted themselves.”
“This time around Penina we’ll have a young and athletic frontline, and any international experience they get is invaluable to the Tall Ferns and their own development so it’s good. Covid has caused a lot of disruption to our national programme, so at the end of the day I’m after those committed players who are engaged into the process and style of play; who want to wear the singlet and make a consistent commitment to the Tall Ferns programme.”
“The other great news for us is the reclassification of Tahlia’s basketball nationality. Essentially an athlete has a basketball nationality as soon as they put on a national team singlet for the first time. Tahlia played in the U17s and U19s for Australia, so that meant she’d declared for them – even though she has Kiwi parents and a dual passport.”
“Over time FIBA has become more accommodating of players wanting to change countries, provided they can meet some strict criteria; ie you’ve lived and played domestically in the country you desire to change to and you’ve made a strong contribution to basketball in that country, which Tahlia has done. FIBA and Basketball Australia agreed to make this happen, which is great news for us and the Tall Ferns squad as Tahlia is still young and obviously very talented. She wants to go to the 2024 Olympics and this is the start of that journey for her.”
On Asia Cup being an Olympic Qualifier:
“Originally the window in November 2019 was the first stage of the Olympic Qualifiers, but because of Covid it recently became the Women’s Asia Cup; that gives us less much time but it’s an opportunity we have to be ready for. The other primary countries we contend against – China, Japan and Australia – are immensely professional with their women’s basketball while we’re largely amateur, so the more chances we get to play together in a camp or game setting, the better for us.”
“Should the execution and the chemistry build up from our camps in May and any warm-up games we play [before the Asia Cup], then I’m confident we can do really well at Asia Cup – our leaders set the standards and I feel we’ve got a bunch of players like Penina and Stella who understand what’s involved and will lead the way. We’ve got to put our absolute best foot forward – and best team forward – for this event that we possibly can, so our intent is to give this our absolute best shot as a top four finish is the only way we can progress onto qualifying for the Olympics in 2024.”
- The FIBA Women’s Asia Cup will be held in Sydney, Australia from 26 June to 2 July, as the 30th edition of the tournament and the region’s flagship women’s national team competition. This is the first time the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup has been held in Australia.
- This is New Zealand’s fourth time participating in the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup (2017, 2019, 2021), with the Tall Ferns finishing in fifth place in the 2021 edition in Amman, Jordan – the Kiwis falling 61-72 to Australia in the playoffs, before securing a fifth-place finish with a 74-59 win over Chinese Taipei.
- Eight players from that 2021 Tall Ferns Asia Cup squad are in line to return for the 2023 edition, including Goulding, Hippolite, Paalvast, Davidson, Kelman-Poto, Taia and the Leger-Walker sisters. Should Paalvast make the Tall Ferns squad for June, it will make her the only athlete to appear in all four Asia Cup tournaments for New Zealand.
- New Zealand will be one of eight countries participating in the 2023 FIBA Asia Cup, joining Japan, China, Australia, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Philippines and Lebanon. Japan have won five consecutive Women’s Asia Cups, including the 2021 edition in Jordan when they defeated China in the Final.
- A strong showing at the FIBA Asia Cup is vital for the Tall Fern’s chances of going to the Paris Olympics in2024; finishing in the top four would qualify New Zealand for an Olympic Qualifier game in February 2024, which is the only pathway to a berth in the Olympics. If successful, this would be only the third time the Tall Ferns have appeared at the Olympics, and the first since 2004.
Tall Ferns Squad of 18
Stella Beck, 51 caps
Tayla Dalton, no caps
Penina Davidson, 53 caps
Mary Goulding, 12 caps
Kendall Heremaia, 4 caps
Lauryn Hippolite, 8 caps
Ash Kelman-Poto, no caps
Charlisse Leger-Walker, 31 caps
Krystal Leger-Walker, 18 caps
Parris Mason, 4 caps
Chevannah Paalvast, 60 caps
Tera Reed, 6 caps
Ash Taia, 9 caps
Lilly Taulelei, 3 caps
Ritorya Tamilo, no caps
Josie Trousdell, 36 caps
Tahlia Tupaea, no caps
Amy West, 7 caps