United States colleges continue to be impressed with young New Zealand basketball players as the rate of Kiwi scholarships continue to grow.
Nelson's Gracie Roberts and Canterbury's Mary Goulding have just signed full scholarships with NCAA Division 1 Colleges, after they were noticed and scouted out of their first year of Junior College basketball.
Mary Goulding has signed to Fordham University in New York City, which already has history with a number of elite Kiwi players including Megan Compain and current Tall Ferns, Erin Rooney and Chevannah Paalvast.
Goulding was plucked from the NJCAA where she was on scholarship at Gillette College, Wyoming. She was scouted by the Fordham Rams through a game they watched on film, the team's coaches then travelled to the National tournament in Lubbock, Texas, to watch her play.
Goulding says she's looking forward to returning to the States in August, where she will be majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring in Theology, and living on campus in a dorm with other team members.
"I went on a visit to New York and met most of the team as well as the coaches and coaching staff. They are very passionate and personable people, which was extremely appealing. They also care about their athletes on a personal level as well as an academic and basketball level. The basketball court is the oldest gym in NCAA history so has a lot of history, which is amazing. The campus is beautiful, the buildings, trees, gardens and park are lovely."
Head Coach of the Fordham Rams, Stephanie Gaitley, has coached a number of New Zealanders and says Mary will be a great addition to the 'New Zealand family'.
"My first Kiwi player was Megan Compain. Megan was the first New Zealand player to make it to the WNBA. My next two Kiwis' were Chevannah Paalvast and Erin Rooney. Erin transferred with me from Monmouth to Fordham and had one of the best careers in history at Fordham. She is currently playing professionally in France.
"We are excited to add another Kiwi to the Fordham family. Mary is a versatile player that can score inside and out. The first time I saw her play she took three charges - her offense was a great bonus. Mary is a terrific player as she was named a JUCO All- American as well as an Academic All- American. She is a great fit for the Rams both on and off the court," says Gaitley.
Goulding has signed a full scholarship including food, accommodation, books, tuition and team travel. She initially received an opportunity at Gillette College with the help of Custom College Recruiting (CCR), a US organisation that gives athletes direct exposure to the university coaches. The organisation has assisted nearly 40 young New Zealanders find homes at U.S Colleges in the past year.
"CCR were good to deal with and sent my information around so that I got multiple offers," says Goulding.
She adds that there are great options in the U.S. for Kiwis, they just have to do their homework and research where would be a right fit for them.
"I don't believe you have to be a superstar, you just have to have some talent and a good attitude and work ethic. It also depends what level you want to play and where you want to go."
Before heading to the U.S. on scholarship, Goulding played most of her basketball for Canterbury and North Canterbury, while also attending Rangiora High School.
"I have always played basketball but only ever represented New Zealand in basketball for the U18 team. Before then I was playing a lot of tennis and netball. In my last year at high school that changed and I was playing more basketball."
During her return to New Zealand during the holidays, Goulding was picked to play for the NZ Select team, which played China B recently.
"The experience was amazing, it has really helped me see the international level of basketball and how the game is so much faster, more physical and has a lot more pressure. I learnt a lot over the short amount of time and felt privileged to be selected to play.
"I think women's basketball is heading in the right direction. The coaches and Basketball New Zealand are interested in making woman's basketball more known and it already has increased over the last few years," says Goulding.
To add to the NZ Select team, Goulding has also been training with the Mainland Eagles in the mornings and playing for North Canterbury. Combine this with strength conditioning and shooting programs that have been sent to her from Fordham University, and it's clear Goulding has not returned home for a rest, but she says she's still making time to enjoy being home.
"The best things about being home are having my family and friends around, the culture and the beauty of New Zealand, as well as the food!"
Gracie Roberts has signed to the University of Detroit Mercy after a strong season in the NJCAA with North Idaho College. Roberts has received a full scholarship from the school to play basketball and study there.
"I chose to go there after my visit and seeing how much of a family culture is there. I loved the coaching staff straight away and the vibe from the team, along with the style of play and the opportunities available there," says Roberts.
The former Waimea College student has come up through the grades in New Zealand, having represented New Zealand in 2012 for the Under 17s and in 2014 for Under 19s. From there she moved onto North Idaho with the help of Custom College Recruiting, who Roberts says helped her to be seen by many different schools all across the States. Eventually she settled on Detroit Mercy as the best option for her.
"I attended junior college at North Idaho College and overall it was a great learning experience. I made many close friendships and learnt a lot in the role as a point guard. It was a good introduction to America and the college system. From day one I loved it there and never once felt home sick. The basketball definitely had its differences to here in New Zealand, but I think it was a good next step as I didn't feel out of depth, but still learnt."
In Detroit, Roberts says she will be studying either a Bachelor of Science or Health Information Management. She'll be living in a dormitory, sharing a room with one of her teammates. Once there, it will be all basketball and study.
"It's so important to meet the required grades and the coaches stress this hugely.
"The coaching staff seems great, along with great facilities, and I'm excited to get there. I will be playing this year coming, as I am not red shirting," says Roberts.
As increasing numbers of young kiwi basketballers are considering U.S. College basketball, Roberts says people don't have to be star players, as there are options.
"People that are not the star player can still make it to the States. There are so many different levels over there and it's just about finding the right fit for you."