The Sky Sport Tall Ferns head into the upcoming Olympic Qualifying Tournament against China, South Korea and the Philippines with one of their youngest-ever captains – Kalani Purcell.
Purcell debuted for the Tall Ferns in 2013 and is currently playing in the Australian Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) for the Melbourne Boomers. She comes from a family that has produced two other Tall Ferns in recent years, her older sisters Charmian Mellars and current and former captain Tall Fern Natalie Taylor.
Taylor is still part of the squad very much playing the role of leader and mentor, but believes the future of this team lies in the hands of her sister and says she’s proud to hand over the reins of captaincy.
“It’s no surprise to me that Kalani is the next captain of the Tall Ferns. Her leadership qualities were obvious from a young age. She’s assertive, hardworking, honest, passionate and empathetic. On top of that she’s a great athlete with a high basketball IQ.
“I’m proud to have handed that mantle to my little sister and will continue to be a mentor figure as needed. I’m excited to watch her develop into the great leader of our national team that I know she’s capable of,” says Taylor.
It’s a perfect transition, with Taylor available as a sounding board for the newly appointed Purcell.
“We’ve spoken a little about her role and how captaining at a young age can be challenging when a lot of your teammates are your age group peers. However the theme has often been to just lead by example, not be afraid to sometimes not be liked, and maintain the strong culture and work ethic the Tall Ferns have been known for,” says Taylor.
The position of responsibility is also fully endorsed by Tall Ferns Head Coach Guy Molloy and players alike.
“We had an opportunity to take a very young team to the William Jones Cup in 2018 and, looking to identify future leaders, Kalani was named as captain of that team,” said Molloy.
The Tall Ferns won the William Jones Cup under Purcell’s watch and Molloy was impressed.
“She did an outstanding job and retained the captaincy for the William Jones Cup in 2019 even though more experienced players were present on that tour.
“Then at the recent Asia Cup in September, the Tall Ferns captaincy was once again voted on for the remainder of the year. Her peers selected Kalani to the position again, which was a ringing endorsement,” enthused Molloy.
Purcell says she was more than a little surprised when given the captaincy.
“I was shocked when Guy announced that I was the captain at the Asia Cup. I thought my sister Nat would’ve been the captain because she has been before me. She has so much experience and does such an amazing job.”
Despite the endorsement of Molloy ringing in her ears, Purcell found the announcement of her captaincy to the team an emotional experience.
“Honestly, I was fighting back tears when Guy announced to the team that I was the captain. It is such an honour it is to be selected as the Tall Ferns captain by my team and coaches.
“They have faith in me and believe that I can lead, and so I will try my best to do so. Being the captain of the national team is huge, and such an amazing and enjoyable experience.
“It’s challenging of course and there are more expectations of me now than when I first debuted for the Tall Ferns six years ago, but I love the challenge and hope to continue growing as a leader in the years to come.”
Molloy has high expectations of his young leader and wants to see her demonstrate key qualities.
“She needs to lead by voice and example, bring the team together on and off the court, embrace the Tall Ferns game plan and culture, and ensure the other players follow her lead. Equally she needs to be a leader that the nation holds in high esteem,” emphasised Molloy.
Purcell believes using her on-court performances is vital as she develops her leadership skills.
“I think I am more of a ‘lead by example’ kind of captain and so speaking out is something I’m working on, but I believe leading by example lifts a team’s intensity. I have a long way to go as a captain, but these women are amazing and they support and respect me as their captain, so I will do the best I can,” says Purcell.
The upcoming games at Trusts Arena will provide a rare opportunity for the Tall Ferns to play in New Zealand. Purcell says she remembers playing at home as a debutante, at a time when she was still studying and playing on scholarship for Brigham Young University in the United States, but opportunities to play on home soil have been few and far between ever since.
“I’m excited to be able to play in front of my family and friends, and I know all the other girls feel the same way. Hopefully lots of people come. All of my family will be there so that’s half of the Arena full already,” she laughs.
“They will see good basketball. We’ve competed for the last two years at a high level so we are definitely going to bring that home.”
More information – Women’s Olympic Qualifying Series in Auckland
Schedule: Day Tickets start from only $8.50 (two games per day):
- Thurs 14 Nov, 5pm. KOREA V CHINA
- Thurs 14 Nov, 7:30pm. NEW ZEALAND V PHILIPPINES
- Sat 16 Nov, 3pm. PHILIPPINES V KOREA
- Sat 16 Nov, 5:30pm. CHINA V NEW ZEALAND
- Sun 17 Nov, 3pm. PHILIPPINES V CHINA
- Sun 17 Nov, 5:30pm. KOREA V NEW ZEALAND
Venue: The Trust’s Arena, Auckland
Tickets: on at Ticketek.co.nz
Follow: @TallFerns on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Hashtags: #TallFerns #GirlsGotGame
Watch: Live broadcast on Sky Sport
Event website: http://www.fiba.basketball/pre-oqtwomen/asia/2019/