Future bright for Tall Ferns despite Olympic qualifying tournament exit

By Basketball New Zealand

Following the Tall Ferns defeat against Cuba and the subsequent elimination from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in France head coach Kennedy Kereama was asked about his hopes for the future of the Tall Ferns programme.

"Every coach has aspirations for their programme to excel. For myself personally Im not certain. We have some great momentum in our programme at the moment and we have some great players, but some of those players are ageing.

"The reality of womens sport is that many players often step away from the elite game to start families, or get married, those sort of things come into play. We may have one or two players potentially moving on from international basketball post this tour. But the team is used to adapting and for us, of course we want to be a top 10 team in the world, and compete regularly at World Championships and Olympics, that vision will always hold strong for the Tall Ferns," said Kereama.

One of the players who may be considering retirement from international basketball is Jillian Harmon. The 29 year old power forward demonstrated her class with a double double of 25 points and 14 rebounds in the loss to Cuba, a result she described as "utterly devastating."

Harmon, who played for the Tall Ferns at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, went on to add, "Its an honour to play for New Zealand, I cant believe its been eight years since the Olympic experience. The only thing I can really think of right now is that I may not play with this group again and how close we were to progressing."

Kereama then went on to outline how the Tall Ferns programme has progressed in recent years.

"Weve made some major evolvements. The first part is a lot of our players now play college basketball and play professionally. We have two players based in Europe, one in France (Erin Rooney) and one in Italy (Jillian Harmon). We have a number of our players playing in the WNBL in Australia, two of our coaching staff have coached in the WNBL, so we have a lot more full time professional athletes - obviously in College no one gets paid but it is a daily task to play basketball. Our players are getting more recognition across the board and more opportunities are being presented to them, which is great for our small little country at the bottom of the world.

"There is a little more experience in our group and some more talent coming through. This is a very determined bunch of young women with some very savvy veteran players that have been to a number of events, Olympics and Qualifiers included, so we have a nice blend of players.

"Perhaps with the merger of Asia and Oceania in 2017, that could be a great thing for us. You can see how competitive our team is, we simply dont have enough games - more games are key."

The Tall Ferns squad will inevitably look a little different when it assembles for the 2017 Asia-Pacific Championship qualifiers next year, but for now the players will take a well deserved break as they return to various destinations across the globe.

As mentioned above Harmon and Rooney are based in Europe. Harmon plays for Le Murra Lucca in the Italian League and Rooney is looking to return to France, but unlikely to suit again for COB Calais.

Micaela Cocks who scored 30 points in the two games against Spain has recently signed a new (1 year + 1 year) contract with WNBL defending champions Townsville Fire. It is also believed that new Townsville coach Claudia Brassard is also in discussions with guard Chevannah Paalvast about a possible return to the Fire lineup for the 2016-17 season. Paalvast was rewarded with a starting spot at the back end of the international campaign after displaying good form in early games.

Toni Edmondson (16 points in the win against Czech republic), one of the most athletic guards at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, and Lisa Wallbutton return to their bases in Perth with both likely to resume playing for their respective clubs in the Western Australian State League in the near future.

Stella Beck (Saint Mary's College, California) Penina Davidson (University of California, Berkley) and Kalani Purcell (Brigham Young University-Provo) will be resuming their American College careers later this year. All three played significant roles during the tour and with an average age of just 21 years can look forward to many more international caps in the future.

Josephine Stockill has recently graduated after setting numerous Womens Basketball records at Colgate University and is returning to her native Hawkes Bay before deciding on her basketball future.

Deena Franklin will be catching up on study as she nears completion of her Biotechnology degree at Auckland University while point guard Jordan Hunter returns to full time work in the City of Sails.

The players and coaching trio of Kereama, Chris Lucas and Aik Ho will reflect on what might have been. They can take pride from the wins the team gathered against Spain, Latvia, Montenegro and Czech Republic, all but Montenegro (27th) well ahead of the Tall Ferns on the FIBA rankings.

To have had the opportunity to play for an Olympic Qualifying Tournament quarter-final berth snatched away in the final two seconds of a game only emphasises how cruel sport can be at times. But Basketball New Zealand Chief Executive, Iain Potter, says the womens game continues to grow in strength each year in New Zealand.

"There are record numbers of female players joining secondary school teams and the lure of American College scholarships, and opportunities to play in Europe, Asia and all around the world, means that there is a great pathway available for players of many levels. This popularity growth can only be good for the Tall Ferns as the player pool gets deeper. We believe the womens game can rise to great heights in New Zealand and Basketball New Zealand will continue to treat both the womens and mens games as equally important programmes."

- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand

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