Is this the year?
Beating Australia at junior basketball is one of the last frontiers still remaining for New Zealand basketball.
Over the past decade, the Tall Blacks have become very competitive with the Boomers and have now beaten them in three series – one of them on their own soil. They’ve now attended three world championships and two Olympics, and the Auckland-based Breakers have twice won the Australian NBL title.
The Tall Ferns have been to three Olympics and while they’re yet to win a series, they achieved their first-ever victory over the then-world champion Aussie Opals during their Beijing Olympic build-up.
New Zealand has hosted the FIBA U19 World Championship for Men and showed they could compete at that level when given the chance. Victory at last year’s 3×3 youth championship confirmed that our young talent is among the best in the world, and we’ll continue to follow the fortunes of Rob Loe, Steven Adams, Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster through their US college careers.
Over the years, we’ve managed the odd win over Australian age-group teams, most recently in the 2009 FIBA Oceania U17 Championship for Men, but their strong junior programme, based around the Australian Institute of Sport, has proved an immovable force for Kiwi hoops. Over the next three days, the Junior Tall Blacks and Junior Tall Ferns take another crack at denting it from tomorrow at Porirua’s Te Rauparaha Arena.
Both teams feature players who have made their presence felt at national level. JTB captain Reuben Te Rangi – a member of that world champion 3×3 team – was Rookie of the Year and one of the top three-point shooters in this year’s NBL.
On the women’s side, Hutt Valley’s Stella Beck was Young Player of the Year in the Women’s Basketball Championship and forward Penina Davidson led debutants Waitakere West Auckland into the final, averaging 15 points and 9.2 rebounds through the playoffs.
Both teams have toured internationally this year – the Junior Tall Blacks again attended the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Germany and visited China, while the Junior Tall Ferns also toured China.
But whether this can convert to a series win over Australia and qualification for next year’s world championships in Czech Republic (men) and Lithuania (women) remains to be seen.
“I’ve said to the team, I think we’ve got the personnel that can have a crack at them,” says JTB coach Deslea Wrathall. “It’s probably one of the first times I’ve felt that way.
“It’s going to be tough. They can flat out play and have a lot of players from their U17 team that came second in the world.
“So it’s not an easy task, but I’m feeling fare more comfortable with the make-up of this team.”
FIBA Oceania U19 Championships
Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua
Thursday, September 20
6pm Junior Tall Ferns v Australian Gems
7.45pm Junior Tall Blacks v Australian Emus
Friday, September 21
6pm Junior Tall Blacks v Australian Emus
7.45pm Junior Tall Ferns v Australian Gems
Saturday, September 22
5.30pm Junior Tall Ferns v Australian Gems
7.30pm Junior Tall Blacks v Australian Emus
9pm Medal ceremony