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Olympic Legends: The Tall Ferns Success Story

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November 25, 2011
Angela Marino

Angela Marino

There is no doubt about the greatest day for New Zealand women’s basketball at an Olympic Games.

The date was August 20, and the year, 2004.

The Tall Ferns had been rank outsiders, yet they found themselves with a chance to reach the Quarter-Finals because of their 81 – 73 upset of Korea earlier in the Preliminary Round.

Should they make it to the last eight, Athens would be deemed a big success.

An 18-year-old Angela Marino, who had only attended her first New Zealand training camp a month before, had the enormous responsibility of playing point guard.

A key member of the side, Donna Loffhagen, also had a big reputation in New Zealand as a netball player.

She would finish as the tournament’s leading rebounder.

The coach, Tom Maher, accustomed to leading an Australia national team that he had turned into a powerhouse, was at the helm.

Determined and smart players with an abundance of heart can never be dismissed, and so it proved for the Tall Ferns.

After the win over Korea, and following a heavy defeat to Spain, Preliminary Round games against Asian champions China and the EuroBasket 2003 silver medallists Czech Republic remained.

New Zealand needed a win to progress, and they believed their best chance would come against the Chinese.

With Marino pulling the strings, centre Gina Farmer pouring in 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds and Loffhagen scoring 18 and corralling seven boards, the Tall Ferns won 79 – 77.

It was a real nail-biter.

New Zealand had led 73-66 with two minutes to go but China stormed back and knotted the contest at 77-77 when Zhang Fan buried a three-pointer.

With 6.4 seconds to go, New Zealand still had time.

They inbounded the ball to Megan Compain, who dribbled up the floor before shooting a pull-up jumper in the lane and scoring as time expired.

Just as the Tall Blacks had done two years before when reaching the last four at the FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis, the Tall Ferns had put basketball on the map in New Zealand with two victories that no one expected.

Calling the victory over China “the most exciting win” in her career, Compain added: “I will never forget it, the feeling of scoring the buzzer-beater in such an important game for your team.”

Maher never looked happier, or prouder, as a coach.

“It’s a game I’ll never forget,” Maher said.