Thirteen years ago, they stunned the international basketball community - and defied their many critics at home - by progressing to the Athens Olympic quarter-finals.

Next month, that same 2004 Tall Ferns roster will roll back the clock to contest the World Masters Games in Auckland.

Shooting guard Megan Compain runs down the list of names and surprises herself that everyone eligible has signed up for the tournament. The notable absentee is pint-sized point guard Angela Marino, who was a teenager at the time and, at 31, would have dragged her teammates into a much younger grade.

Athens assistant coach and former international point guard Kirstin Daly-Taylor will sub in for Marino.


"We got really, really good buy-in from a few, but we had to work hard to persuade others," chuckles Compain, still the only Kiwi woman to play in the WNBA. "We've even got all the Aussie-based girls to come over for it."

The New Zealand women had qualified for Athens, because Australia, as reigning world champions, had automatic entry and the Tall Ferns inherited the available Oceania berth. At the time, their international record did not suggest they were capable of progressing past pool play and led many to question their Olympic selection.

But the core of that unit had also attended the Sydney Olympics four years earlier, so they knew what they were up against, and under Australian coaching supremo Tom Maher, who had previously guided the Opals to Olympic silver and bronze medals, they set about their task.

After toppling South Korea in the second game, they needed to upset China, one of the world's strongest teams, to graduate to the knockout stage. As time expired, Compain hit a mid-range jumper to seal the win and earn a spot in the quarter-finals, where they fell to their Australian arch-rivals.

But she insists this reunion is not so much about reliving past glories on the court - it's a chance to acknowledge what this group of women meant to each other at an exciting time of their lives.

"I think we all realised that life moves on and we've all got quite a bit older," says Compain, now head of sponsorship at New Zealand Rugby. "Individually, some of us have kept in touch and we saw this as an amazing opportunity to reconnect over a fun event.

"It's probably less about that particular team, and more about that group of friends that spent so much time together in age-group basketball, national teams and club competitions.

"We were just really lucky in the sense that we played at the peak of our careers at a time when we had an opportunity to play at the Olympics. It felt like the heyday of New Zealand basketball, when the profile of the women's game was at an all-time.

"So it's less about that Athens team and more about that time in our lives, which was a very special time."

Most of the Athens roster retired afterwards. The Tall Ferns would again qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but by then, only Marino and then-captain Aneka Kerr (now Davis) were left from the previous campaign.

When the players assemble again for the World Masters Games, they will still perform under the "Ferns" moniker, just not the full "Tall Ferns" name.

"We weren't keen to be sued by Basketball New Zealand over intellectual property rights," quips Compain. "We also weren't that confident of doing justice to the name by coming out of retirement and might have been setting ourselves up for a bit of a fall.

"Everyone is still relatively fit and active, and no doubt the competitive streak will kick in once we hit the court.

"Our minds will certainly be willing, whether the bodies follow remains to be seen."

Because Davis, 36, and dual basketball/netball international Donna Wilkins, 38, have still not hit the big 4-0, the team was obliged to enter the women's 35-plus premier grade, where they'll have to compete against somewhat younger legs.

Athens captain Leanne Walker is the oldest member of the side at 49.

"There's a big difference between running around as a 35-year-old compared to 40," grimaces Compain.

Reeling in the years

Tall Ferns squad at the 2004 Athens Olympics:

Leanne Walker (captain), Rebecca Cotton, Angela Marino, Kim Wielens, Megan Compain, Donna Loffhagen, Gina Farmer, Tania Tupu, Sally Farmer, Julie Ofsoski, Jody Tini, Aneka Kerr.


Tom Maher.

Assistant coaches:

Mike McHugh and Kirstin Daly.


Kim Lucas.