Basketball New Zealand has named both its men's and women's U18 3X3 teams to attend the FIBA 3X3 World Championships in Kazakhstan in June, with the men setting out to defend the title they won in Hungary last year.
The men's team is Tai Wynyard (Waitakere West Auckland/University of Kentucky), Sam Waardenburg (North Harbour), Hamish McDonald (Waikato) and Isaac Letoa (North Harbour) while the women's team is Kendell Heremaia (Waikato), Zara Jillings (North Harbour), Charlisse Leger-Walker (Waikato), and Alyssa Hirawani (Waikato).
Wynyard is the sole survivor in the men's team from the quartet that set the basketball world on its backside with a win at the FIBA World Championship in Hungary and is returning from Kentucky University next week to attend the preparation camps with the team. His value to the team and impact on the format was highlighted with his being named tournament MVP in Hungary.
The women's team features a return for Kendell Heremaia from the team that made the round of 16 in 2015, while Alyssa Hirawani was a non-travelling reserve on that occasion. Meanwhile Chalisse Leger Walker follows in the footsteps of sister Krystal who captained the team last year and mum Leanne in wearing the silver fern (Leanne is the Assistant Coach with the two teams).
Head Coach Anthony Corban will once again look after both men's and women's teams, assisted by Leanne Walker. The Waikato based coach is looking forward to another tilt at a world title but knows it does not get any easier.
"Obviously having the MVP of the tournament from 2015 (Tai Wynyard) back in the squad this year is a massive help to what is otherwise an inexperienced group. The group will spend the next few weeks building their own team chemistry and on-court style of game. I have liked what I have seen so far though.
"We have already focused on fitness in our preparation camps prior to naming the teams - that is key to competing in any FIBA 3X3 tournament. We have a good plan in place upon arrival in Astana to overcome the trip and jetlag and to adjust to the local conditions.
"In 2015 we arrived well off the radar of pre-tournament predictions and lifted our on-court performance several notches for knock out basketball, but we won't have that luxury this time. Teams will want to make a name for themselves by beating us.
"On the women's side, Kendell Heremaia is back from the 2015 squad that had an outstanding tournament (one pool game loss to tournament winners, France and lost top 16 game in last 42 seconds to Italy) and I must say I really like this group and their potential. We are not as tall as last year. But we spread the court well and we have players that can knock down shots.
"If there is a downside it is the clash with the Junior Tall Ferns Tour to China which has seen a number of players make themselves unavailable. But this is a strong group, I am looking forward to the challenge of stepping up into the arena of international basketball with this group. These girls are tough. They will not take a backward step to anyone and collectively as a group we will find a way to be competitive in every game we play.
"There are many challenges to overcome though and conditions will be the same for all teams, we will go with a Kiwi attitude of taking on the world and give it our best shot again to compete on the global stage with some outstanding young men and women."
And FIBA has announced the pools for both tournaments, with the New Zealand men drawn in a tough Pool D with all teams they will play returning from the 2015 tournament, including Spain (4th) and Brazil (10th), the other teams to challenge the Kiwis in pool play being Hungary and the Philippines.
For the women the New Zealanders have been drawn in Pool D and will play Turkey, Spain, Egypt and Guatemala for a place in the knock out rounds.
The top two teams from each pool progress into knock out play.
The team continues a comprehensive series of build-up camps before departing for Astana on May 26th, in a tournament one that can be as much a battle of fitness and attrition as it can pure skill, with teams having to back up day after day with a roster of just four players at their disposal.