A new international pathway through Asia to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup may rekindle a Tall Ferns programme that has stagnated since attending three consecutive Olympics almost a decade ago.

Fifteen players are currently in camp, based at Papakura, as part of the preparation for next month's Asia Cup in Bangalore, India. It's the first time New Zealand will attend the event, as part of a newly aligned qualification process through the FIBA Asia zone.

Rather than making it harder to attend the world tournament, this move to Asia may be just the boost needed for the Tall Ferns to return to the international centrestage.

Previously, they have had to battle Australia for the one Oceania spot available at the former world championships, but the Opals' status as one of the top women's teams on the planet has made that task virtually impossible.


New Zealand has only attended those championships once, in 1994, when Australia qualified automatically as host nation. Every other time, the Aussies have taken the Oceania berth, winning the title in 2006 and taking bronze medals on three other occasions, including three years ago in Turkey.

The new format has Tall Ferns coach Kennedy Kereama excited about finally taking that next step.

'This is big time for us," he says. "In the past, we lose to Australia and it's over, but this change sees us playing against beatable teams.

"You still have to play your best basketball - you can't beat these teams by accident, especially in Asia - but we've beaten China in China, we've beaten Japan in Japan and we've been competitive against Korea.

"That gives us a chance. We're not necessarily coming in as underdogs, like we were against Australia."

The national women's team lost high performance funding support after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Tall Ferns won only one game, against African champions Mali, and their ambitious Australian WNBL programme crashed and burned.

While the Tall Blacks men have continued to enjoy government support for their campaigns, Basketball NZ has had to fully fund the women through thick and thin, but they have never quite returned to the big time, despite showing glimpses of their ability.

Last year, they failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics through a tough repechage process, but beat world number two Spain as part of their preparation. The Spanish only lost two games last year - the other was the gold-medal encounter against the United States at Rio.


"I've seen some very dark days in this programme, where we've come together on the smell-of-an-oily-rag-type budget, but we've now got so many great things here," says Kereama.

"We understand what High Performance Sport's reasons are for their funding and we've got to do the heavy lifting now, by getting ourselves to the world championships. If we do that, we're literally beating the door down for funding and with that, this programme could go up another three gears.

"There's so much potential in this group."

The FIBA Asia Cup features eight teams, with New Zealand (world #38) drawing China (10), Chinese Taipei (34) and North Korea (64) in their pool. After round robin play, the two pools will cross over for quarterfinals, where the winners will claim the four Asia/Oceania spots available at the 16-team FIBA World Cup.

Qualification would certainly be reward for the survivors from Beijing nine years ago, who have endured some dark days since. Then-video analyst Kereama became a 24-year-old head coach two years later, while veterans Micaela Cocks, Jillian Harmon and Natalie Taylor are again under selection consideration.

The full squad is Georgia Agnew (Harbour Breeze), Jessica Bygate (Australia), Tea Charlton (England), Michael Cocks (Australia), Antonia Farnworth (Australia), Deena Franklin (Harbour Breeze), Jillian Harmon (Italy), Charlisse Leger-Walker (Waikato Wizards), Kayla Manuirirangi (USA), Katelin Noyer (USA), Chevannah Palvaast (Australia), Kalani Purcell (USA), Erin Rooney (Poland), Josie Stockill (Australia) and Natalie Taylor (Australia).​