Auckland Dream, the 2019 Women’s Basketball Champions, are looking forward to the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 that is about to be played in their backyard.
Dream Coach Aik Ho admits it’s been a long wait to put their national title on the line.
“This is an exciting time for women’s basketball. We have been waiting for a very long time to showcase the women’s game.
“We’re excited to have some women’s basketball on again after such a long drawn out year. The players have been preparing for 10 months with no certainty of playing, so it is great they are finally getting some reward.
“Preparation has been tracking along nicely. The squad are working well together, and we have brought together a group of women varying in experience ranging from regional representatives to international experience.”
The 18IN18 opening night matchup between the Dream and Waikato Wizards on Thursday 19 November is one eagerly anticipated by NBL fans. The Tall Ferns Assistant Coach admits 18 games in 18 days is going to be a different experience to what players and coaches are used to.
“As a coaching staff, we have tried to plan scenarios to ensure that the squad are focussed on the task in hand. We have tried to replicate our training based on the tournament’s format.
“We have two games first and then a break of 6 days before our next game, so we have to ensure that training is preparing us for games.”
Having the 18IN18 played in Auckland at Pulman Arena certainly helps the WBC Champions.
“At one stage, when the BBNZ logistical planning was still happening, we had to resign ourselves that if the competition was not in Auckland, we would be struggling to field a challenging competitive team because of players' work commitments.
“Women are different to men and sometimes there are other priorities in their lives aside from sport. The other impact that also influenced our squad members was the remuneration factor of taking time off work.”
The Dream will be a much-changed outfit in 2020 but do return a number of their championship-winning team from last year. Some notable names being Amanda Buck, Sharne Robati, Casyn Buchman and Rionne Papa.
“We have a mixture of youth and experience this year after losing nine players from last year. Our enthusiasm and love for each other will be our strength.
“We have a lot of new players this season, getting to know each other in our family will be our key to success on and off the court. We have plenty to work on before and during the league. Amanda Buck’s leadership and experience will be really key for us,” says Ho.
Buck, the Dream captain, returns for another campaign just a few months after giving birth to her third child, Carter. A bonus for the Dream is that Carter was born in July and therefore if the Sal’s NBL had been played earlier in the year, as scheduled, the Tall Fern would have been unavailable.
From last year’s team, the Dream has lost New Zealand internationals Natalie Taylor, Kalani Purcell, Charmian Mellars and Jordan Hunter. However, they are boosted by the inclusion of former Tall Ferns Katelin Noyer and Jelena Vucinic.
Noyer returns after four years at Fresno State University and Vucinic, who also played NCAA Division one hoops (Louisiana Tech University), makes the move north from Nelson.
Whilst Ho welcomes the addition of some experienced players, he is also looking forward to seeing how his young brigade develops.
“Sharne Robati she improved every year, and this will be a great opportunity for her to continue to develop on and off the court.
“Arielle Williams-Mackey has been working hard after the Tall Ferns camp and we look forward to seeing her continued development.
“This is the part I am looking forward to the most, giving opportunities to younger athletes to make their mark in the NBL. This season is sure to unearth some new stars who otherwise may have had to wait a season or two.”
The experienced Ho has had a long coaching tenure and understands better than most that the 18IN18 is about more than just the on-court competition.
“It’s also about ensuring the Dream continue to inspire more females to get involved in basketball and to inspire our team members to continue their love for basketball and to share that love with others.
“Having all 18 games broadcast live on Sky Sport is a huge step forward in exposing women's basketball to a bigger audience. It will also assist teams to gain sponsorship and increase their fan base which will allow them to grow their organisations and become more professional in their operations.
Having won the 3x3 Schick Cup earlier in the month, the Dream will be looking to make it a championship double in 2020.
Check out the Dream's full roster along with all five other 18IN18 teams here.