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Basketball - 21. April 2015.

Stella Beck Young Tall Fern Beck is thriving

Stella Beck (NZL) - Saint Mary's (NCAA Women)

MORAGA (2015 FIBA Oceania Women's Championship) - Look at what New Zealand youngster Stella Beck has already experienced in her basketball career.

The 19-year-old was the Most Valuable Player of the Women's Basketball Championship (WBC) in her country after leading Hutt Valley to their first title.

She's worn the Tall Fern shirt at a FIBA Oceania Women's Championship and now has a season of American college basketball under her belt with Saint Mary's in Moraga, California.

And check this out.

The native of Lower Hutt, which is a 20-minute drive from Wellington, was last month named West Coast Conference (WCC) Newcomer of the Year.

When one talks about the bright future of women's basketball in New Zealand, it's not misplaced optimism.

It's because of players like Beck.

Long before establishing herself as the WCC's top freshman, Beck experienced the thrill of a lifetime.

She had played for the Kiwi youth teams but making the squad for the 2013 FIBA Oceania Women's Championship as a teenager wasn't something she'd envisioned.

"After the WBC Tournament, the national women's tournament of New Zealand, I got an email from [head coach] Kennedy [Kereama] to say that I was invited to the Tall Ferns trials," Beck said to FIBA.com.

"It was a two-week long trial and we did various things.

"At the start of the camp, I had mixed emotions, didn't know what would happen.

"I went in not expecting to make it.

"Then towards the end, I felt I had a chance and that motivated me. Kennedy had us in one-to-one meetings and told us we'd made it.

"There were a lot of young girls on the team and that made it even more special."

The first game against Australia in Auckland, she says, was unforgettable.

"It was surreal," she said.

"We had to get our uniforms on and get changed. I was really nervous but I just tried to tell myself to play really good defense and the offensive would come."

Beck played 17 minutes in the opener in Auckland and then 15 in Canberra.

The Opals won both games, but Beck and the other youngsters gained a lot.

I got so much experience out of playing  against Australia and with the New Zealand girls, playing for Kennedy. - Beck

"It was great experience," she said.

"I played against Natalie Hurst, Belinda Snell, Lauren Jackson, Tess Madgen.

"I remember Hurst being quick and Jackson, she's one of the best players in the world.

"It was incredible, probably one of my best years in basketball.

When she arrived on campus last year in Moraga, which is about 30 kilometers away from San Francisco, Beck quickly set about establishing herself in the squad.

In her second game, at the University of California at Davis, Beck had 16 points and 10 rebounds in a 55-53 Gaels win and in the next one, 13 points and 14 rebounds in a 99-91 win at Sacramento State.

Back-to-back double-doubles from a freshman raised eyebrows.

The Gaels would won 23 games in 2014-15 and reached the Women's National Invitational Tournament Quarter-Finals before falling to UCLA.

It was a positive year.

"It's a different style with more dribbling," she said of college basketball.

"In New Zealand and Europe, there's more passing.

"But I think I've adapted pretty well, although there was an adjustment period."

Beck says her game has changed.

I think my skill base has gotten better. -Beck

"I've worked a lot on shooting and gotten better," she said.

"There is a lot of skill work that you do here like dribbling, shooting, footwork - basic fundamentals.

"There is a lot of one-on-one work with coaches.

"It's repetitive but essential."

Beck's favorite part of the sport is playing defense.

"I enjoy playing it [defense]," Beck said. "It's always come a bit more natural to me.

"It's more about thinking and knowing where you are."

Beck will take summer school classes before returning to New Zealand for the Tall Ferns trials.

She says her main focus now is on trying to make the national team again.

As for the Oceania series with Australia, Beck said: "I think being the underdogs is always exciting.

"I definitely would give us a chance. 

"I think we always have self belief.

"Considering our size, we punch above our weight but I don't think they don't they take us lightly."

The Tall Ferns will have to be especially good to beat a powerhouse Opals squad.

"I think you have to be pretty composed, good execution, know what you are doing," Beck said.

"If you are in the good frame of mind and can make them feel uncomfortable, then we'll see."

And if the upset happened, the Tall Ferns would play at the 2016 Olympics.

"Every athlete only has a certain number of opportunities to get to the there," she said. "It's really exciting thinking about it.

"I think we could do well on the international stage, too."


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