Natalie Taylor has linked up with the Tall Ferns team having sat out the Taiwan leg of the build up to the Asia Cup, but with one special addition – her ten month old son Rocco.The Brisbane based Taylor, who plays for Brisbane Spartans in the Queensland State Basketball League, adds depth and experience to the Tall Ferns squad bringing the playing numbers up to the full quota of twelve. Her talents were missed in 2016 when she took a year out from international basketball – but her reason was celebrated amongst the team when Taylor and her husband Ezra welcomed their new born son Rocco into the world.
Taylor has since returned to the playing ranks, but not alone, with Rocco now a welcome member of the squad. Rocco has already had a week in Singapore and now with the team in Bangalore, where the Tall Ferns will attempt to qualify for the FIBA World Cup via the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup next week. It’s a big test for the team, but especially for Taylor who has her Mum duties to attend to.
“Preparing to come on tour with an infant was challenging in itself, but since being here, balancing Roccos schedule and time zones with the team’s schedule has been the most challenging. He’s still breastfed so my time management is huge – ensuring I can still train, rest and manage my injuries as well as tend to and spend time with him is really important.
“The wider team has also been amazing with welcoming Rocco. He’s around everyone at some meals, free time, travel and occasionally the physio room so they get to see him a bit.”
Taylor’s sister, Kalani Purcell, is also on the team and Taylor says having one of Rocco’s aunties on tour is ideal. Taylor’s husband and Rocco’s Dad, former rugby international Ezra Taylor, is also on hand and on tour so Rocco has bought his own support crew too – a team within a team.
“Rocco has been a great traveller so far. I’ve just had to be really organised with his schedule and our team schedule, but having Ezra here really helps alleviate a lot of the load,” says Natalie.
Both Basketball New Zealand and the Tall Ferns management have been supportive of Rocco accompanying Taylor on tour. It’s something that Taylor says is appreciated, especially when some women in sport might feel like it’s not possible to be both a mum and a professional athlete.
“I think it’s important that female athletes shouldn’t feel like having a child can or will be detrimental to their sporting career. I put off having kids for years for that reason. It’s only fair that women and mothers don’t lose the option to play sport at any level because they choose to have children. Having a hugely supportive team and organisation meant I didn’t have to choose one or the other.”
After taking the year out, the 2008 Olympian is thrilled to be back wearing the black singlet for another international campaign, and even more delighted to have her son by her side.
“Being a Tall Fern is really important to me and something that I aspired to, and I really take pride in representing my country. I’m delighted to be back in the Tall Ferns environment playing alongside some of the players I have shared great success with. It’s also great to meet up with and assist the debutants and less experienced players that we have in the group,” says Taylor.
Also pleased to have Taylor back in the fold is Tall Ferns head coach Kennedy Kereama.
“The coaching staff are delighted to have Nat in the team. She is a welcome addition as she adds experience and leadership” said Kereama.
“She has versatility as a shooter and defender and, with the ability to play multiple positions, she will be a real asset. It is really good to have Nat with us and giving us a full strength squad from this point forward,” Kereama added.
In Singapore, Taylor didn’t disappoint in her first international outing for since returning. She came off the bench and scored 9 points and added 7 rebounds in 19 minutes of action, as the Tall Ferns recorded an 80-55 first test victory against Singapore.
She followed that with an impressive stats line of 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in game two’s victory over Singapore.
Although Taylor debuted for the Tall Ferns in 2007, the Tall Ferns addition to the FIBA Asia Zone is brand new and something that Taylor is yet to experience. She says she’s looking forward to the team’s first appearance at the Asia Cup.
“The move into the Asia Cup is a very big for us and a really good thing. I definitely think it will help us get back to the Olympics and the World Championships and hopefully we can be there next year,” added Taylor.
That opportunity begins with their first game in Bangalore in the early hours of Monday morning New Zealand time (00:15, 24 July NZ Time).