The Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze will open their Sal’s NBL 18IN18 campaign on day four, Sunday November 22, against Capital Swish.
The runners-up in the 2019 Women’s Basketball Championship (WBC) have just three players returning that played in the pulsating grand final last year – an 89-86 overtime loss to the Auckland Dream.
The returning players are Keeley Tini, Ashleigh Kelman-Poto and Tall Fern Ella Fotu.
Breeze Head Coach Jody Cameron is in no doubt that Fotu, a Tall Ferns debutant last year, shapes as a vital player for her team.
“Ella is a dynamic athlete that is beginning to show her full potential as she continues carving out her career in the game.”
The Breeze have lost Tall Ferns Penina Davidson (Melbourne Boomers) and Matangiroa Flavell (Waikato Wizards), plus former internationals Deena Franklin and Chelsea Terai.
However, they do welcome back Brooke Blair and Zara Jillings, both recent Tall Ferns.
“It's been a while since Zara and Brooke have played at home. They both add strength and pace to the team and Brooke is explosive with an eye to pull up from 3-point range.”
Jillings has returned after three years at Fordham University in New York whilst her former Westlake Girls’ High School teammate Olivia Bell is also back from her stint in the USA, adding depth to the Breeze backcourt.
The Breeze will be relying almost entirely on home-grown talent with all but Waiaria Putaranui-Henderson having schooled in Auckland and previously played in Harbour colours.
The youngest of those is Jess Moors. The Year 13 Westlake student was named to the Junior Tall Ferns at the start of the year and Cameron believes she will more than hold her own in the Sal’s 18IN18.
“Jess is a talented athlete and will be able to mix it with those veterans who have commanded the floor in previous years. She adds a robust presence and will look to hunt the ball down with her keen eye for intercepts.”
“We have a dynamic athletic bunch who love to run. They are very competitive, ambitious with an eye to shoot the ball. We have traditionally had athletes that like to run, make big plays, and enjoy the process.
“We will always have a strong desire to shoot the ball well, and that will continue to develop during the Sal’s 18IN18. Transition is another work on we hope to improve, both offensively and defensively.”
Cameron is expecting the whole squad to contribute to the success of the team.
“Everyone plays a role to make a successful team. We hope to deliver a good product to showcase the athleticism in female basketball. This is a great opportunity for those athletes to play, but also a great time to highlight how teams work both on and off the court.
“We also have a desire to be roles models for our associations, partners, communities, friends and families.”
The Tall Ferns Assistant Coach is in no doubt that 18 games in 18 days will throw up some challenges for players and coaches.
“It's still an unknown process, I’m sure it will be tough, exciting and create lists of different ways to be successful.
“It’s a really good opportunity for those up-and-coming players to get a taste of what could be a regular weekly thing going forward. We have a few juniors that will make people stand up and take notice. I'm especially excited and looking forward to what they will showcase.”
Cameron is sure her team will embrace the 18IN18 concept and believes having games every night for almost three weeks is a terrific opportunity.
“The games are in the evenings at 7:30pm, to accommodate those working or watching, and we do hope to see our community backing the players, and the game we love. It's a real treat to see a game every night for 18 days straight.”
Cameron reflects on her time as a young player watching the NBL and being inspired by a former Tall Fern.
“I had a magazine picture I ripped out that was a picture of Corrina Poto on the front highlighting her American scholarship.
“I saw that picture as a 12-year-old, and that's when I wanted to be a baller and an international. Now we have the opportunity to showcase a pathway and game where we are visible to those young females that love the game of basketball.”
The former Olympian is sure having all games broadcast live on Sky Sport is a huge boost for women’s basketball in New Zealand.
“It's an opportunity to showcase the game and attract some new fans, new sponsors, new coaches and new athletes!
“It's a testament to the hard work that goes in behind the scenes to create the competitions to play this game. It also enables the athletes to be recognised for their dedication to their craft and the love they have for the game. I'm excited to be a part of this special time, where we can play basketball when many in other parts of the world cannot.”
Can the Breeze go one better in 2020? We’ll have to wait and see. The Sal’s NBL 18IN18 tips-off on Thursday 19 November when defending champions the Auckland Dream take on the Waikato Wizards at Pulman Arena.
Check out the Breeze’s full roster along with all five other 18IN18 teams here.