The National age-grade championships have come to an end for this year. Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare has been impressed with the skill level of the young players on show.
Henare says he hasn't had the opportunity to witness too many age-grade tournaments in recent years, but has attended both the U17 National Championship in Wellington and the U15 Championship in Auckland over the past two weeks, he has noticed the intensity the young players are playing at is something different. Another thing he has noticed is the increased skills on show, and the willingness of the players to demonstrate them, "it's good to see them sort of pushing the boundaries with their skill sets."
The NZ Secondary Schools Sports Council figures show basketball is the fastest growing sport in schools, and is on track to be the number one sport in schools by 2020. In census data released earlier this year, a total of 25,649 secondary school students played basketball in 2017, behind only Netball and Rugby Union, but is the only one of the three sports to show an uptake in participants schools.
Henare says there are many possible reasons as to why the sport has had a rapid rise in recent years, but an increased amount of basketball shown on television is one reason. He also believes the increased use of live stream is another, "everything seems to be live streamed these days and you can watch national Under 15 tournament, I mean it's crazy, it's awesome," he said.
Henare says its growth has spread to the regions, and whats more some regions are beginning to enjoy success at a national level. Taranaki won the U17 girls tournament last week, and Henare understands that is the first age-grade title that region has won. He says, "it's a good thing that all these provinces around the country are having their moments to shine. It means something is going right in terms of development, coaching and the programmes that are being put together."
Results this year show that there is not one dominant region in New Zealand, Taranaki, Waitaha-Canterbury, Waikato, Capital, and Harbour have been among the winners of the various age-grade tournaments ranging from U15 to U19.
Basketball New Zealand will be hoping that an increase in participation, and a lift in talent across the country will lead to success on the international stage in years to come.