At present, the Tall Ferns are in the middle of FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying series at The Trust's Arena in Auckland. Among them is Rotorua's own Matangiroa Flavell, whose Olympic dream has been reignited since returning to the game she almost gave up.
Rotorua Tall Fern Matangiroa Flavell's path to national side selection has been a rocky one - but she has bounced back from disappointment and reignited her dreams.
Flavell, the youngest child of former Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell, attended Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu in Rotorua and more recently spent six months at Otago University studying health science. She was then given the opportunity to attend college in the United States on a basketball scholarship.
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She spent two years in Junior College at Midland Community College in Texas. After graduating from Midland she moved on to Houston Baptist University for the 2018/19 NCAA season, but things did not pan out as she had hoped.
Flavell returned to New Zealand last year, after cutting her time in America short. She thought her dream of playing for the Tall Ferns had probably ended.
"I had a bit of a rough patch that ended with me coming back home. I really loved it at Houston, but it wasn't working out with the coach and I thought that might be it for me and basketball," she said.
Flavell spent time away from the court but her love for the game was too strong. The 22-year-old realised she still had the desire to play basketball at the elite level.
"After two months off, I realised I did want to make something out of these years playing basketball. That is why I made the move to Auckland."
She joined Harbour Breeze where she enjoyed instant success helping the team to the 2019 Women's Basketball Championship (WBC) Final where they went within a whisker of beating eventual champions Auckland Dream.
Despite her good form during the WBC season, being asked to join the national team came unexpectedly. Head coach Guy Molloy was putting a squad together for the July tour of Japan and then the William Jones Cup in Taiwan, with an eye for developing depth in the squad.
"That call from Guy was insane, probably the best call I have ever received. I was assuming that he would just be interested in having me go to camp or trialling but, just on the spot, he offered me the opportunity to go overseas with them and that was the biggest thing. I was shocked because it was just straight off the bat."
The 180cm shooting guard debuted for the Tall Ferns in Japan but got injured in Taiwan where the Ferns finished runners-up.
"I came home with an ankle injury. I missed out on two games on the tour. Once home, I just tried to have a bit of a break to keep my head clear from basketball and then gradually get back into it. Since being cleared to train again, it has been all about getting fit and ready to go again."
Head coach Molloy said Flavell was in the squad as a development player, identified as a Tall Fern of the future. While the current Tall Ferns squad has called on the experience of New Zealand's best and Flavell is listed as an emergency reserve, Molloy said we would be seeing a lot more of her.
"When we selected this wider squad of 14, we felt that having her around the team of 12 was important and valuable to increase her exposure to the Tall Ferns. She fits into our culture and style of game really well. She plays well both ends – a pretty rugged defender and can shoot the shot pretty well – so we think she's got plenty to offer in the future."
In the first two qualifiers, played on Thursday, Korea upset pre-tournament favourites China 81-80 and the Tall Ferns hammered the Philippines 111-54. The Tall ferns next game is against China at 5.30pm on Saturday.
Women's Olympic Qualifying Series in Auckland
5pm Thursday, November 14:
Korea 81-80 China.
7.30pm Thursday, November 14:
New Zealand111-54 Philippines.
3pm, Saturday, November 16:
Philippines v Korea.
5.30pm, Saturday, November 16:
China v New Zealand.
3pm Sunday, November 17:
Philippines v China.
5.30pm, Sunday, November 17:
Korea v New Zealand.