Tall Fern Jillian Harmon has led her professional team to win the Italian Basketball Championship.
Harmon played a pivotal role as her club Le Mura Lucca, leading all scorers with 19 points to take out the final game 65-50 in front of their home fans at their home court called PalaTagliate. The win was sweet revenge for Lucca having lost the 2016 grand final series to the same opponents 3-0. Its an achievement that Harmon says is one of the highlights of her career, up there with when the Tall Ferns beat world number two ranked Spain last year.
"We beat a team in a five game series that everybody said couldn't be beaten. Hard work, heart and belief can take you a long way and this team proved that. We were absolutely the underdogs, as we often are in New Zealand basketball as well. As we showed last year beating Spain in Spain, nobody is unbeatable," said Harmon.
The Tall Ferns Forward has had an outstanding season for Lucca, her second with the club and seventh overall in Italy, averaging 17.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. Her 17.2 points per game placed her third on the Italian League scoring list.
"Italy has become a second home to me. I just finished my seventh season here, and I am still discovering new and wonderful parts of the country all the time. Obviously the language barrier was difficult at first, but it was a great opportunity for me to learn a second language."
Now the Italian season has finished, Harmon says shes looking to step back into the National side in what is a completely new environment now that FIBA has moved New Zealand into the Asian Zone for the World Cup Qualifiers.
"I can't wait for Tall Ferns to start! The move to the Asia region for FIBA is a great opportunity for our program. We have a very legitimate chance at qualifying for the World Champs and I can't wait to get back together with the girls.
"The best part about the Tall Ferns is without a doubt the people within the program. Kiwis never cease to amaze me. I have travelled all over the world and never come across a nation that even comes close to New Zealand in terms of pride for their country and genuine kindness of the people. I am so lucky to have half of my family still in New Zealand and the opportunity to play for the Tall Ferns!"
Harmon says she usually returns to New Zealand to spend every Christmas with her family in Taranaki, and when the Tall Ferns form. Now one of the heroes of the New Zealand womens game, Harmon is encouraging to young Kiwi girls stepping on court and playing basketball through the age-groups and looking to step into the professional level.
"My advice would be to dream big. It is amazing what you can accomplish if you really believe, even when others say you can't. It's exciting so many girls in New Zealand are now heading overseas to play in college, and this is an excellent goal for young girls to start with."