The New Zealand Olympic Committee along with Basketball New Zealand has named the women’s basketball team for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
The naming concludes selections for the Games with the basketballers taking the final team number to 251 athletes, making it the largest ever New Zealand Commonwealth Games team.
New Zealand Tall Ferns Head Coach Guy Molloy has ensured there’s a balanced mix, consisting mostly of tried and trusted experience, but also with a youthful dose.
“After an excellent three-day camp in Dandenong last month, we have picked a team featuring a strong blend of youth and experience for the Commonwealth Games,” said Molloy today.
“Tall Ferns veterans such as Micaela Cocks, Toni Farnworth, and Natalie Purcell will lead admirably, whilst other talented Australian WNBL players Kalani Purcell, Chevannah Paalvast, and Jordan Hunter will provide scoring power and great defense.
“I am particularly excited, however, by the emergence of two very young Tall Ferns in Charlisse Leger-Walker and Zara Jillings. Amazingly Charlisse is only 16 years old, but she plays with the poise of a much older player and is a very clever playmaker. Similarly Zara is only 19 and is a freshman starter for Fordham University, but also really impressed during the Asia Cup campaign in 2017.
“The selected team is small, but fast and skilled, and we hope to play a great brand of basketball during the Games,” Molloy added.
Leger-Walker, a Year 12 student at St Peter’s School Cambridge, is set to become the youngest player to represent the Tall Ferns and the third member of her family to represent New Zealand at senior level following sister Krystal and mother Leanne.
Krystal, a sophmore guard at the University of Northern Colorado, also debuted for the Tall Ferns as a teenager back in 2014. Leanne is of course a two-time Olympian having attended the 2000 and 2004 Olympics with the Tall Ferns.
Needless to say Charlisse wasn’t the only member of her family to be excited about her selection.
“My mum was really excited. She has a bit of a poker face, but beneath that seriousness she was really happy. I told Krystal straight away as she was asking me every day if I was in the team, she is so excited that I am going to the Commonwealth Games.”
Having attended two training camps already, Leger-Walker feels comfortable in the Tall Ferns environment.
“The other girls treat me the same as everyone else and I don’t feel like I should step back. The senior players like Natalie and Micaela, who have a lot of experience in this team, are really good and treat me like any other player.”
Being the youngest member of the team is not an entirely strange scenario for the Kiwi playmaker.
“Since I was about 11 years-old, filling in for my sisters teams, I have played with older players so that’s the way I have been brought up. I think it has also worked well that I have played for the Junior Tall Ferns at a young age so it makes the transition to this team so much easier. Playing up in the age-groups has really benefitted my game skills and my basketball IQ,”
Balancing her school studies and playing international basketball presents a challenge that Leger-Walker is confident she can handle.
“I’m going to miss three weeks of school so it is going to be difficult. This term there are a lot of internals that I will have to catch up on in term two. Last year when I was away with New Zealand U16’s it worked out better, as it was mainly revision work at school. My teachers are really excited for me and we have been working together to ensure I don’t miss out on any credits. I’m really busy, but it’s pretty cool,” she added.
The rest of the squad contains nine of the players that attended the 2017 Asia Cup in Bangalore last July.
The other players not in Bangalore last year are Jordan Hunter and Erin Rooney. Hunter, the former Counties-Manukau guard, returns having missed the whole of the 2017 international campaign after incurring an ACL injury in the opening round of the Women’s Basketball Championship in Auckland last year.
Rooney last played for the national team at the 2016 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in France and most recently has been playing in the Swiss National League for Troistorrents.
Molloy will have a number of experienced Australian Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) players to call upon including Kalani Purcell who plays for his Melbourne Boomers club side.
Micaela Cocks (Townsville Fire), Toni Farnworth (Perth Lynx) and Chevannah Paalvast (Canberra Capitals) are the other current WNBL players.
Cocks, a three-time WNBL championship winner with Townsville, is the only survivor from the Tall Ferns team that won a silver medal at the 2006 Games in Melbourne – the last time basketball was included in the four-yearly event. Although her former teammate Jody Cameron will be there as Assistant Coach.
Cocks is also a veteran of the 2008 Beijing Olympics campaign as is another senior member of the squad, Natalie Taylor.
Molloy is excited about the talent at his disposal and is looking forward to building the team and the culture for the Commonwealth Games and beyond.
“The mission is to develop the New Zealand team into one of the top teams in the FIBA Asia qualification zone and we want to make a fast start at the Commonwealth Games also. I want to get off to a great start and we want to hit that tournament full steam.” Molloy added.
The Tall Ferns will head into a pre-Games training camp before opening their Commonwealth Games campaign with a game against Malaysia on 5 April in Cairns.
New Zealand Tall Ferns Team:
• Jessica Bygate (Sandringham Sabres, Australia)
• Micaela Cocks (Townsville Fire, Australia)
• Antonia Farnworth (Perth Lynx, Australia)
• Deena Franklin (Harbour Heat, NZ)
• Jordan Hunter (Sturt Sabres, Australia)
• Zara Jillings (Fordham University, USA)
• Charlisse Leger-Walker (Waikato Wizards/St Peter’s School, Cambridge)
• Chevannah Paalvast (Canberra Capitals, Australia)
• Kalani Purcell (Melbourne Boomers, Australia)
• Erin Rooney (Troistorrents, Switzerland)
• Josie Stockill (Sunbury Jets, Australia)
• Natalie Taylor (Brisbane Spartans, Australia)
• Head Coach – Guy Molloy
• First Assistant Coach – Jody Cameron
• Second Assistant Coach – Aik Ho
• Team Manager – Denise Beede • Physiotherapist – Ariane Carroll • Strength and Conditioning Coach – Gavin Cross