U.S. Colleges are continuing to scout basketball talent out of New Zealand with one school in particular keen on New Zealanders. Today Zara Jillings has signed a full scholarship with Fordham University.
A number of Division 1 schools were targeting Jillings, with no less than five colleges offering the Westlake Girls High School student an official visit. In the end Fordham University and one of the United States top college coaches, Stephanie Gaitley, secured the 18 year old.
"I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of initial interest from programs all over the U.S. In the end I visited three schools that I was really keen on and found that was enough to be super confident in my decision," says Jillings.
"I took three out of a possible five official visits because I had heard from others that its a pretty chaotic experience. You only get 48 hours at each school so they pack a lot in: tours, meetings with academic advisors, going out for your meals, watching practice, spending time with the team. Its overwhelming, but incredible to see the facilities and resources they have to pour into the school. What I liked was getting a feel for everything in terms of the people and the campus, so that you can really picture yourself being there," says Jillings.
Jillings decided to sign with Fordham for of a number of reasons, including academic opportunities and the history the school has with Kiwi players.
"I immediately felt a good vibe with the coaching staff. They are very family oriented and have created an extremely successful program. Coach Gaitley also has a lot of experience with internationals. Shes coached Megan Compain and Erin Rooney, who both went onto play professionally. Everything I had heard and all of my own experiences with the staff just felt right.
"Fordham University is also an incredible school academically, their business school is ranked very highly and there is the potential for me to get my Masters Degree while I am there. The school is right in New York which is an amazing place and such a different environment to home," said Jillings.
Already Jillings is no stranger to playing international basketball, having been selected in New Zealand age-group teams since the Under 16 level. Earlier this year she travelled to China with the Junior Tall Ferns and also played for the Under 18 3x3 Womens team in Kazakhstan. Her success as a player is not too surprising when looking at Jillings upbringing, where she was raised in a family of basketballers.
"My parents still play and when I was younger my brother did too, so I was in a gym watching trainings and games since I was young and have played since primary school. I did so many other sports as well through primary and intermediate, but basketball was always my favourite. I love how its a team sport but you can still do a bit of everything individually too."
Like many young athletes Jillings says she is appreciative for the help she has received from parents, coaches and the Harbour Basketball Association.
"My parents have been huge in the way they have supported me in everything, no matter what. Dad has spent a lot of early mornings in gyms and Mum was my first ever coach. Im so lucky to share my passion with them. Ive also been with Harbour Basketball since I was 11 and as an Association theyve always been so supportive, you can see why they run probably the best rep program in the country."
Jillings plans to head to New York in early January and will be red-shirting for the remainder of the season, and will also begin studying Business. Of course basketball is also etched into her plans.
"I really want to play for the Tall Ferns. I got a taste for it being in their Olympic Qualification trial camp and it confirmed that I want to reach that level. Its a step up from Juniors but something I aspire to. Id also love to be part of a team that makes it to the Olympics for 2020 and 2024, thats a big goal. I think its looking promising that New Zealand Basketball will make it to those events."