The Waikato Wizards head into the 2020 Sal’s NBL 18IN18 with the experienced coaching duo of Leanne Walker and Anthony Corban at the helm.
Corban confirmed that despite the disruptions caused by Covid the players are excited about getting out on court.
“The players are looking forward to finally playing. We started training in February then Covid came along (two waves of it) and completely disrupted sport.
“We keep reminding the players they are lucky to have a 18IN18 concept for women’s basketball in 2020.”
Preparation hasn’t been straight forward with some players having to juggle 3x3 and 5x5 training in recent weeks.
“In addition, players have work and study commitments that have impacted on attendance, our conditioning and team chemistry. However, we are thankful for this opportunity, and we will make it work.”
18 games in 18 days is going to be a different experience to that that players and coaches have experienced in the past, but the Waikato coaches are committed to overcoming the challenges it presents.
“There is nothing better than reinvesting your coaching strategy,” says Corban.
“We are lucky as Pulman Arena is only one hour and 15 minutes up the motorway, so most of the players can complete their work/study commitments.
“We can meet and travel on game day - the onus will go on me to have our scouting reports ready and in a simplified format for the group.”
Despite losing a couple of players to work commitments and others absent on American basketball scholarships, Corban sees 18IN18 providing an opportunity for some up-and-coming talent.
“We have the best junior age group programme in the country, so it gives our young players an opportunity to step up and represent the team and themselves.
“Our Under 17 group keep reminding the older group—we want your minutes.”
The Under 17 group Corban refers to won back-to-back U17 National titles in 2019 and 2020.
Reese Anderson, Alana Paewai, Breeje Schuler and Jayze’lle Waihi, all members of that double-winning team, will be vying for spots in the Wizards lineup.
Complimenting that youthful quartet is some more experienced campaigners.
“We have a good leadership group of Tash Lenden, Pep (Mantangiroa) Flavell, Maka Daysh, Kelcy Ballantyne that set the tone at training,” said Corban.
Lenden, a Tall Fern back in 2014, has played for the Wildcats for over a decade and is one of the longest-serving and most respected players in the NBL. Matangiroa Flavell, who wore the black singlet for the first time last year, is a welcome addition to the guard rotation which will be missing the Leger-Walker name for the first time in several seasons. Krystal and Charlisse are about to start their NCAA season at Washington State University.
Hard-working forward Kelcy Ballantyne is in her fourth season with the Wizards whilst Maka Daysh, who missed all of last season due to injury, adds a new dimension to the Waikato frontcourt with her strong rebounding presence.
Corban believes every team will be in the same position at the start of the competition having a lack of pre-season games and issues with game fitness.
“We will get better as the competition continues, but as a coaching and playing staff we have to understand the challenges we face as a group.
“Our realistic goal is to make the semi-finals, but in the five-game round-robin regular season we need to bring the energy and enthusiasm every game.”
Corban wants the Wizards to play a positive style of women’s basketball that is attractive for the fans.
He also believes having all 18IN18 games broadcast live on Sky Sport is important for the future and progression of women’s basketball.
“It’s massive. Any opportunity to showcase your sport of choice is important for all stakeholders. This is the start point for the Sal’s NBL Women’s League.
The Wizards open the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 season with a blockbuster encounter against defending champions the Auckland Dream on Thursday 19 November.
Wizards fans are sure to make the short trip up State Highway 1 for what promises to be the first of many exciting games.