The Aon New Zealand Under 17 team have returned from their tour to the Philippines, having competed against some of the big basketball universities in Manila.

The tour was partly made possible through the help of former Tall Blacks coach Tab Baldwin, who is based in Manila. Baldwin spent three years coaching the Philippines national mens side, before stepping down last year to take a position as Head Coach for the Ateneo University Blue Eagles - one of the highest profile universities in the Philippines known for its academic and sporting reputation.

The Aon New Zealand Under 17s were hosted at Ateneo University for the schedule of six games.

Every game went down to the wire with the final scores being within four points or less. New Zealand won two of these, while also coming away with an experience that New Zealands Assistant Coach and the team statistician - Aaron Young - said was invaluable, especially when the trip was a big part of their preparation for their pinnacle event in 2017 - the Under 16- FIBA Asia Championships, to be held in October.

"This trip has been an unbelievable experience for the group and we couldn't have asked for a better way to prepare for Asia Champs in October. Tab Baldwin and his team at Ateneo University were amazing from the moment we landed, making sure we had everything we needed to get the most out of our time in the Philippines," said Young.

"The growth of our group was evident by the number of improvements we made, on and off the court. As individuals we learned and improved every day. Our chemistry was about building relationships and understanding the responsibility when you put on that black singlet. Coach Tab said it best - Youre ambassadors. Youre a credit to BBNZ, youre a credit to yourself, coaches and management, but most importantly youre ambassadors for your families."

The Under 17s were playing older and more experienced opposition, with the opposition rosters filled with university age players around 18 years and older. The university teams in the Philippines are well supported and funded, and play in televised leagues. Coach Young was quick to add that the Philippines basketball culture is incredible, with it being the most popular sport in the country, played on both the amateur and professional levels - a standard of basketball that he says is like no other.

"The passion, energy and pace that they hang their hat on makes it an exciting environment to be a part of. The biggest adjustment for our group was having to adapt to the speed of their guards and the intensity they play with every possession," said Young.

Before departing Tab Baldwin visited the New Zealand age-group team to express his thanks and appreciation for the way the young Kiwis carried themselves.

"These experiences are important for your ultimate goal in playing championship tournaments. And what I saw from this week included improvement as team, but more importantly adjustments as individuals to the referees, the style of play - that's what it takes, that's what playing for national teams and playing in international tournaments is all about. So huge credit to you guys and the coaching staff.

"I just want to extend my appreciation to Delwyn Whale [NZ U17s Team Manager], the coaches, and for the ways that you conducted yourself while you were here. So great job, safe trip home and I'm sure our paths will cross again," said Coach Baldwin.

Game Results:

Game One: Won against University of the Philippines Integrated School (UPIS) - 21 July 2017

Game one was against UPIS, a team that Coach Young said was well-organised and high energy.

"It was our first international game as a team, and the speed and high tempo was something we had to adjust too."

The first quarter was all the home team, hitting four out of five from deep and forcing the Kiwis into six turn overs after 10 minutes. In the second quarter, the Kiwis stepped up their physicality and made sure they punished any mismatches when they were available.

At half time UPIS led 27 to New Zealands 25. In the second half, UPIS continued their pressure up the floor which forced New Zealand to cough it up eight times in the third.

"With that continued pressure, free throws started to pile up and we got to the line an impressive 47 times. Unfortunately we only capitalised on 25 out of 47 of those," said Coach Young.

In the fourth quarter, Mitchell Dance led the way, dominating the glass and finishing some tough And 1s. After settling in and adjusting to the style of play, the Aon New Zealand Under 17s won in overtime.

Final score:

New Zealand, 72. (Mitchell Dance 27 points, 10 rebounds. Shalom Broughton 14 points, 6 rebounds).

UPIS, 68.

Game Two: Won against Batang Gilas (Philippines Under 16s, Batang translates to Youth) - 22 July

On Day Two of the tour Tab Baldwin addressed the Kiwis for the first time on a day that Coach Young said the Aon New Zealand Under 17s were still adjusting to the climate, humidity and food.

That morning, before the game, Tab Baldwin spoke to the young Kiwi team and shared what Coach Young said was some very compelling stories.

"It was the perfect time for Tab to come in and talk to the boys about Basketball New Zealand and the expectations and the honour of putting on the black singlet."

Not long into the first quarter it was clear that the Kiwis were still adjusting to the referees in the first half, with 8 traveling violations. It was a slow start from for the New Zealanders, but Coach Young said adjustments were made and Tom Cowie and Sharne Perham stepped up defensively, so New Zealand captured the lead 32-29 by half time.

After a Low scoring third quarter, the fourth was led once again led by Mitchell Dance, who stepped up with 11 pts and 4 rebounds in the final period.

"Some game changing plays and extra possessions created from our hustle allowed us to generate a small lead. In the end, clutch Free Throws and strong post-play helped us cap off another close victory against a good team. Coach Dave Bublitz talked to the team after the game about learning from our mistakes and taking care of the basketball, especially having recorded 30 Turnovers for the game," said Coach Young.

Final Score:

New Zealand, 56. (Mitchell Dance 17 points and 10 rebounds. Shalom Broughton 16 points and 8 rebounds).

Batang Gilas, 52.

Game Three: Lost to Far Eastern University (FEU) - 23 July

The Aon New Zealand Under 17 teams would play two games on Day Three of the tour, the first was against FEU, which would go down to the wire in overtime. It was an impressive display from the Kiwis against a team that Coach Young said is arguably the toughest university team in the Philippines.

The first quarter was an intense spell with multiple turnovers and a fast pace. Showing their experience, FEU jumped out to an early 10-0 lead. The Kiwis made some coaching adjustments and fought back in the second quarter, with FEU up 32-30 at the break.

In the second half, New Zealand battled the boards, but had trouble putting the ball in the hole - finishing the game with only 37% of attempted field-goals.

"Down the stretch was all about both teams making big plays," said Coach Young. "Marvin was huge, knocking down back to back big 3's late to put us up 3 with 35 seconds left."

FEU then found themselves scrambling to force the game into overtime. After two made Free Throws, FEU advanced the ball up the floor and hit a last second 3 at the buzzer, extending the game into overtime. New Zealand were hurt by not converting shots in the paint, eventually losing what was a close game to a quality side.

"It was definitely a great game for the boys to learn from after being in a great situation to beat a tough team," said Young.

Final Score:

New Zealand, 66. (Mitchell Dance 19 points, Shalom Broughton 9, Cullen Marsters 8 points, Marvin Williams-Dunn 8 points).

FEU, 68.

Game Four: Lost to University Santo Tamos (UST) - 23 July

The second game of Day Three was by far the most physical of the tour and with the Kiwis coming off an extremely close game that morning, it was always going to be tough to follow up with another tough game in the afternoon.

Despite the double header, New Zealand climbed out to an early 31 to 15 lead, showing their unselfishness by making extra passes and executing offensively. However, UST took advantage of the lack of fouls being called and scratched their way back in the game, frustrating the New Zealand group to bring it back to 31 to 23 at half time.

The second half was much the same as the second quarter, with New Zealand having to face UST's 1-2-2 press, which they found difficult, especially with it restricting the Kiwis ball movement.

Tom Cowie was a standout in the fourth quarter when New Zealand needed the Point Guard to step up. Coach Young said Cowie did a great job of settling the team, organising the offence, and slowing the game down.

"He was able to handle the pressure and get to the line where he shot 80%."

After two missed Free Throws from FEU with 12 seconds left, Shalom took the rebound coast to coast where he unfortunately missed a layup to win it.

Final score:

New Zealand, 68.

UST, 71.

Game Five: Lost to LaSalle GH - 25 July

Coming off a days rest, the Aon New Zealand Under 17s were able to reflect and shift their focus to training at Ateneo Blue Eagles gym.

Coach Young said "self-reflection was key since we had come off a couple of tough close-losses on Sunday. After a well-structured and beneficial training, we rested up and got ready for our Tuesday night match up against a gritty La Salle Green Hills University team."

Young said New Zealand opened the game with "some good, old fashion, unselfish basketball, showing they were starting to gel as a team and play the right way.

"La Salle couldn't cope with the energy and intensity we played with on the defensive end and that led to easy points in transition, something that we weren't getting in the first three games."

Some strong post play from Anzac Rissetto and a reasonably high scoring quarter, saw the Kiwis up 26-18 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, La Salle settled in and continued to attack and successfully penetrating the Kiwi defence. New Zealand continued their dominance on the glass, but didn't help themselves by going 0-7 from behind the arc. The Kiwis led 39 to 35 at half time.

Coach Young said the team had to deal with some questionable calls and unforced errors in the fourth quarter, which meant another close finish was on the cards.

"Their main guy, number 27 stepped up and showed his versatility, hurting us in a number of ways, especially on the offensive boards, creating extra possessions and using his strength and athleticism to frustrate our players. He finished with 16 on 7 from 9 shooting and 9 rebounds - he was a tough matchup to say the least."

After some great execution, the Kiwis had a chance, but failed to convert which left La Salle with the final shot. A tough drive and finish by their Point Guard with 2.2 seconds left meant another nail biting defeat. It was a frustrating loss for the team after doing a number of things right, outplaying them in nearly every statistical category except the main result.

Final score:

New Zealand, 74.

La Salle University, 76.

Game Six: Lost to Anteneo Dey Manila University (ADMU) - 26 July

Close games became the theme of the tour, with nearly every game decided by four points or less. It was only fitting that the Aon New Zealand Under 17s final game would be yet another close encounter with the hosting side.

Their final matchup against ADMU, a team stacked with some top recruits, one of them being a 6'10 15 year old they call 'Phenom' who locals said was the the next big thing.

Facing players who had the advantage of significant size and length meant New Zealand had to adjust, and find other ways to attack the paint and convert plays into points.

"Fortunately we were able to do this and our physicality allowed us to get to the line and slow the game down," said Coach Young.

New Zealand led 18 to 12 in the first half.

"The second half was led by the home teams #12, who went off for 12 points on 6 from 7 shooting in the third. Tom Cowie matched with 7 of his own."

This helped Ateneo recapture the lead at the end of the third quarter, 45 to 43.

Going into the final quarter, it took another big session from Mitchell Dance to keep the Kiwis close, with 10 points for that period. A couple of turnovers late were costly, giving Ateneo a two point lead with 25 seconds left. With a timeout to spare, Head Coach Dave Bublitz drew up a play to get something to the rim and force the game into overtime. Ateneo lifted their pressure and denied the post catch, which resulted in another costly turnover. After converting on both Free Throws, the home team hung on.

Final Score:

New Zealand, 69

Ateneo, 73.

Aon New Zealand Under 17 Mens Squad to travel to the Philippines:

- Shalom Broughton (Tauranga Basketball Association)

- Tom Cowie (Southland Basketball Association)

- Mitchell Dance (Harbour Basketball Association)

- Haven Dixon (Wellington Basketball Association)

- Hayden Druce (Harbour Basketball Association)

- Kainoa Lepou (Waikato Basketball Association)

- Cullen Marsters (Waikato Basketball Association)

- Louis Oskam Waitaha (Canterbury Basketball Association)

- Sharne Perham (Rotorua Basketball Association)

- Te Tuaio Rautangata (Waikato Basketball Association)

- Anzac Rissetto (Auckland Basketball Services Ltd)

- Jaylin Too (Wellington Basketball Association)

- Marvin Williams-Dunn (Auckland Basketball Services Ltd)


- David Bublitz - Head Coach

- Doug Courtney - Assistant Coach

- Aaron Young - Assistant Coach and Stats

- Delwyn Whale - Manager

(-The New Zealand definition of age is different from FIBA. The New Zealand definition for Under 17 is yet to turn the age of 17, which is what FIBA terms as Under 16.)

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