Early specialisation in a single sport is a trend world over. But, New Zealand — and Oceania countries in general — seem to do it differently. In the Kiwi team at the FIBA U-18 Women’s Asian Championship here, there are at least four players who are accomplished practitioners of multiple sports.
Point guard Sofia Kennedy and small forward Emila Shearer are both dual internationals, cross-country running and volleyball are their other callings, respectively. Rochelle Fourie played netball while captain Charlisse Leger-Walker has past experience of competing in both netball and touch rugby.
“We bring in girls from all different activities. Be it in another sport, some musical arena or anything. In New Zealand, we do not just do one thing, which is both good and bad. I'd like to get these girls train and play basketball all the time. But, at 17, you want to be kicking around, playing water polo, tennis, a musical instrument…be multi-talented,” explained Jody Cameron, the New Zealand coach.
The limited talent pool is one of the factors, Cameron said. “We do not have as many people as India, that is why maybe! Back home, we probably have more quality and we want to go more all around. It’s the same with Australians.”
The crossover has helped in her wards becoming better basketball players, Cameron felt. “It is quite typical of elite sports in our country. Analogies are key. Like, footwork from football. I use a lot of ‘tennis feet’ - which is to be nimble on your feet so that you can transition from defence to attack well. Kiwis are tough in general and are known for rugby. These girls know how to pass a rugby ball, so we are a tough defensive team.”
Cameron herself was a beneficiary of such a system, she revealed. Her mother was a noted coach and both she and her brother have played basketball at the Olympic and World levels. “We played a different sport every day of the week and basketball is something we chose because it’s a great sport and you can be everything in it. It is now the fastest growing sport in the country.”
The exploits of this multi-talented team are one of many reasons for the growth. It may have lost to Australia on Thursday and missed out on the 2019 U-19 World Cup, but in the last 18 months, New Zealand has tasted its first victories in the Asian zone (U-16 & U-18), bagged a bronze at the Commonwealth Games, won the Asian 3x3 and played in the U-17 World Cup. The Tall Ferns no doubt look set to soar higher.
The results: Division A: Semifinal qualifiers: Australia 82 bt New Zealand 66; China 80 bt Chinese Taipei 53; Seventh place: Indonesia 86 bt Malaysia 35.
Division B: Semifinal qualifiers: Kazakhstan 71 bt Iran 56; Hong Kong 67 bt Singapore 37; Seventh place: Samoa 62 bt Guam 48.
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