A new national women’s basketball league – with pay equal to the men’s league – will give a huge boost to the development of home sport and draw the Kiwis home, writes Merryn Anderson.
Zoe Richards manages to make a phone call after a full day of working as an early childhood teacher in Dunedin, change diapers and stay up late after a busy day. However, she has no rest for the evening, heading to basketball practice later in the evening, but she still keeps a happy face.
The 24-year-old played college basketball in the United States for four years on a high school basketball scholarship, and this year spent a season with the Rockingham Flames in Australia before returning home. him in New Zealand.
His full-time job is a necessity without a basketball contract, but Richards needs to remain flexible when it comes to his basketball commitments, especially as a member of the Tall Ferns squad.
“It’s been a huge struggle for me, just trying to balance it out,” says Richards. “Because I’m not on a contract for a team at the moment, I had to come home and find a job and a job.”
Starting in July next year, the eight-week National Women’s Basketball League (NBL) season will feature a new salary system for female players, allowing them to make basketball their top priority.
For the first time in the NBL, player payouts will be equal between the men’s and women’s leagues – an initiative Basketball New Zealand (BBNZ) is hoping to attract Kiwis honing their art overseas to return home to play. .
Starting in July 2022, the new league will consist of five teams representing the North, Mid-North, Central, Upper South and Lower South regions.
The five women’s franchises will have a whole new identity and will no longer be tied to the men’s league, starting in April.
The partnership between BBNZ and Sky is a five-year agreement designed to increase the visibility and accessibility of home games and ultimately elevate New Zealand basketball to the world.
The new league will be a game-changer not only for Richards and other players in New Zealand, but also for the Kiwi women who play basketball abroad to have something tangible to return home to.
There are currently 64 Kiwi women playing college basketball in the United States and Canada; 28 play in Division I of the NCAA – that’s more than the Kiwi Men, who have 16 in high-profile college competition.
With players like sisters Charlisse and Krystal Leger-Walker playing in Division I, and Penina Davidson and Chevannah Paalvast playing in Australia’s WNBL, the Tall Ferns are struggling to find the time to train together as a team and to play. refine their relationships.
Richards traveled to Jordan with the Tall Ferns for the FIBA Women’s Asian Cup in September, where the team placed fifth overall, narrowly missing the automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
It was far from a holiday for the team, with young mum Tessa Boagni taking her one year old son Noah with her, and part of the team continuing to work remotely during their stay in Asia, without the luxury of being able to take free time.
While the squad were full of talent, the lack of time spent playing together in preparation may have hurt the Tall Ferns, who struggle to deliver consistent team performances.
“It takes a while to find that spark with each player or find what different people are doing pretty well,” says Richards.
“Having this league and bringing the players back will mean we can train more often as a team. We can develop further by working together as a team and understanding what each player’s skills are and how they help the team.
“Connections don’t just happen like that so making connections with different players and doing it really helps, it helps the team a lot.”
The women’s league lineup appears to be culminating in a Tall Ferns series, said former NBL general manager Justin Nelson, now Sky’s advertising and events manager.
It is hoped the schedule will encourage Tall Ferns players to return home and play in the league before combining for domestic duties.
“In putting this concept together, it was really important for basketball to give all of the talented Kiwis from overseas the opportunity to come home and play. And to do it in a way that supports their careers. Nelson explains.
Each team will play 12 games over eight weeks as part of the regular season, with each team having six home games, encouraged to be spread across their region.
Imports are welcome in the new league, and BBNZ is hoping equal pay will attract big names.
“That’s what we were missing here in New Zealand for women’s basketball,” said Nelson. “We had a competition, but it just didn’t support the Tall Ferns effectively because the best players have to live and play overseas.”
Richards agrees. “The fact that all the best players come back and want to play in New Zealand, it will dramatically increase the level of basketball and then have a ripple effect on the Tall Ferns,” she said.
“Because a lot of players will come back and play, they will play together or against each other, everyone will enjoy the New Zealand league a lot more – and I hope we play better on the national stage.”
Richards felt that playing abroad this year was a necessity for her to develop as a player, in a semi-professional league where she knew the level of commitment of her teammates and coaches.
“That’s what’s really exciting about the new league – because they’re going to pay players, it’s going to be a professional league now,” said Richards.
“This will increase the professionalism of the clubs and the commitment of everyone to play the game and to get to practice. Everything will improve tremendously.
The Sky and BBNZ partnership will see over 300 games broadcast live alongside free coverage, providing nationwide access to watch.
Richards believes the new league is a game-changer for sport in New Zealand, seeing what can be achieved with a commitment to women’s football.
“Getting more girls and younger generations involved and hoping to inspire them is, I think, key to the development and future of women’s basketball in New Zealand,” she said.
“Now that they are going to pay players, it will really take the stress out of players who are worried about their income and it just means that women’s basketball is taken more seriously, showing that they value women’s basketball. , it’s not just a side thing.
“There is a career in basketball, and it also shows younger girls that you can play professionally. Basketball New Zealand is really pushing, there is a path for this career. ”