Basketball New Zealand have opened 2017 by running age-group development camps and say that competition for selection is fierce with a noticeable increase of players and talent.
Chief Executive of Basketball New Zealand, Iain Potter, says with more Kiwis sinking their teeth into basketball, it's not surprising that Basketball New Zealand's junior development programmes are filled with future Division 1 scholarship players and talent that he is sure will feature on the world stages of Europe, U.S.A and Asia.
"We run talent camps that feed into our National Junior teams, which in turn are an important pathway for players with their eyes on Tall Black and Tall Fern jerseys. We've just gone through our second phase of National Age Group Selection Camps, which hosted close to 250 junior athletes who were invited to trial for the New Zealand under 16, Under 17 and Under 18 Boys and Girls junior teams," says Potter.
"The purpose of the selection camps is to name wider squads for the first of a number of intensive preparation camps for the teams' respective pinnacle events in 2017, which will put New Zealand teams on the stage of some impressive global stages, especially with FIBA entering New Zealand into the Asian Zone."
Those stages are spread around the globe, beginning with Australia. The New Zealand Under 16 Boys and Girls teams will be competing at the Australian State Championships from 8-15 July in Perth. The New Zealand Select U16 Teams Boys and Girls teams, another development team, will compete at the Medibank National Junior Classic in Dandenong, Melbourne. Both are strongly fought for by Australian State teams and have had well-known alumni grace their events including Matthew Dellavedova (Milwaukee Bucks), Dante Exum, Joe Ingles (Utah Jazz), Patty Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers).
Moving further into Asia and the New Zealand Under 17 Boys and Girls teams will compete at the FIBA Asian Championships - the girls event will be held in October in Chennai, India. The hosts for the boys' event are yet to be announced.
The New Zealand Under 18 Boys and Girls teams will compete at the FIBA Men's Oceania Championships from 9-16 July in Guam.
For the members of these younger teams, they also have their sights set on a place in the Junior Tall Blacks and Junior Tall Ferns. The honour of that selection seems all the more prestigious after a herculean effort to knock over the vastly-favoured Australian side out of the Oceania Championships last December, and so the New Zealand Junior Tall Blacks have qualified to compete at the FIBA World U19 Men's Championships this coming July in Cairo, Egypt.
"Our young players are capturing the global basketball community's eye and proving themselves to be worthy of respect," says Potter.
"We are continuing to foster this evolution of talent. Despite minimal high performance funding for a big sport like ours, we are blessed with coaches and support staff throughout the country who love the game and devote themselves to helping our juniors. These junior players' parents sacrifice a lot of time and money to give their kids an opportunity to compete on the world stage. Also local associations around the country work tirelessly to give junior platers opportunities to develop their skills to meet the expectations of national squad selectors."
A lot of the that devotion to talent is recognised at the National Development Camps where Mr Potter says it's not just athletic ability that's tested, but there is a strong focus on how players conduct themselves off the court.
"At the talent camps we look at how we can best support these young athletes. This year we offered a number of strength and conditioning, injury prevention, and social awareness workshops. We brought in the social awareness aspects by working with the Ministry of Social Development and the 'Are you that someone?' campaign and the 'It's Not ok' campaign to discuss sexual and family violence. It's modules like these that focus our players attention on how they should conduct themselves in situations that could confront them as sporting stars, and to think about their role as leaders in their communities back home. So not only do we want to educate and create awareness of the demands on a national athlete in international competition, but we also preach the responsibilities they have off the court."