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Basketball - 13. April 2016.

Tall Ferns get ready for WOQT with punishing schedule


2 Micaela COCKS (New Zealand)
Micaela Cocks (NZL) - New Zealand v Australia, 2015 FIBA Oceania Women’s Championship, Tauranga (New Zealand), game 2, 17 August 2015

AUCKLAND (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) - The best way foráNew Zealandáto get ready for what coach Kennedy Kereama has called a "cut-throat"áFIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournamentá(WOQT) is to warm upáagainst the toughest opponents they can find.

With that in mind, theácountry's basketball federationáhasáput in place a challenging preparation program, one that should get the playersábattle-hardened for their WOQT clashesáwith hostsáFranceáon 14 June and thenCubaáthe following day.

Several of the national sides that the Kiwis are going to faceá-áChina,Belarus,áTurkeyáandáSpainá- will be at the WOQT themselves and another, Japan, areáalready qualified for theáOlympics.áTheáCzech Republic,MontenegroáandáLatviaáalso have good teams.

Montenegro, in fact, are the only side with a worseáFIBA World Rankingáthan New Zealand. They are No. 29 whileáthe Tall Ferns are No. 22.

"Our build-up for the Olympic Qualifier is great," Kereama said. "We are playing a number of good teams ... We will be pushed during every game."

We need the best competition possible and the tougher the games, the better the preparation for our Olympic Qualification Series. The tournament is going to be cut-throat and we need to be playing our best basketball when we arrive in France. - Kereama

New Zealand have also revealed which players will compete for spots on the WOQT roster. Some would appear to be near certainties for selection, likeáMicaela Cocks, the veteran point guard who just led the Townsville Fire to the WNBL title. Cocks was named the MVP of the Grand Final and has been rewarded with a new contract

Another isáJillian Harmon, like Cocks a Townsville player and member of the Tall Ferns squad that played at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Harmon, however, has not played for the national team since the 2012 WOQT.

Antonia Edmondsonáis another of the trialists who played in the Grand Final, but for losing side, Perth. Edmondson most recently featured for the national team in 2013 when she averaged 22 points per game at the FIBA Oceania Women's Championship againstáAustralia.

Another player who may prove crucial for the Tall Ferns isáKalani Purcell, who is coming off a terrific season in American college basketball with Brigham Young.

Kereama is excited. He led the team at the WOQT in 2012 and endured the disappointment of not reaching the London Games. He and his players are going to be hungry.

"We have a good group of players that have made themselves available this year, many of whom have just come off great professional or collegiate seasons," Kereama said.

The depth in our women’s program is at an all-time high and we have a lot of players knocking on the door and forcing themselves into the selection conversation. - Kereama

Four players not selected or unavailable areáNatalie Taylor,áMegan Craig,Tessa Boagniá(all three were in last year's FIBA Oceania Women's Championship squad) and Jacinta Beckley.

At the trials, Kereama will choose 14 players to remain at aápreparation camp in Auckland (9-11 May). The squad will then travel to China and play at a Four Nations Tournament that also includes the Czech Republic, Montenegro and the Chinese.

New Zealand will have friendlies 23-28 May against Latvia in Riga.áNext will be a Four Nations Tournament with Belarus, Japan and Turkey in Minsk from 29 May to 4 June, followed by friendlies against Spain 5-9 June in Asturias. The team will then travel to Nantes for the WOQT.

New Zealand trialists: Stella Beck, Brooke Blair, Jessica Bygate, Micaela Cocks, Shea Crotty, Penina Davidson, Antonia Edmondson, Deena Franklin, Samara Gallaher, Jillian Harmon, Jordan Hunter, Breana Jones, Krystal Leger-Walker, Hailey Moala Katelin Noyer, Chevannah Paalvast, Kalani Purcell, Erin Rooney, Terai Sadler, Josephine Stockill, Dru Toleafoa, Jessica Tuki and Lisa Wallbutton.


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