Hutt Valley High's basketball star aims high
Stella Beck can't get enough basketball.
The Hutt Valley High School pupil has represented her school, province and country this year and keeps stepping up for more.
She has dabbled with other sports, including football and netball, but basketball has always been No1 for Beck.
"I like the speed of the game – it's a fast game."
Netball's loss has been basketball's gain, for Beck is Stella by name and stellar by nature.
The 16-year-old still has another year at school, but is already a member of the Junior Tall Ferns [New Zealand under-19] and playing for the Hutt Valley Flyers in the senior women's basketball championships.
She had previously been a New Zealand under-16 and under-17 representative and was selected for the tournament team at the national under-21 tournament in May.
She was also a key member of the Hutt Valley High School senior basketball team which established an extraordinary winning streak of 65 games.
Hutt Valley suffered their first defeat in Wellington since August 2008, when beaten by Newlands College late last month, but Beck, who missed the Newlands game, can see the silver lining. "We're starting a new streak now."
Beck, who began to play mini-ball as a 5-year-old, regards the Junior Tall Ferns tour to China this year as the high point of her career.
It was an exhausting fortnight, with nine games in three venues against teams from China, Australia and the United States, but Beck says it developed her game.
"I've definitely improved since then. The tournament really helped.
"It was pretty tiring and quite a relief to get home. China was exactly what you would expect – lots of people and the food was really different.
"Basketball-wise, it was the toughest standard I've played. The US team was mostly in their 20s and they were really good.
"They weren't rough – just a really good team, while I was the height of the smallest player in the Chinese team.
Beck missed one game in China with a minor injury, but otherwise got significant playing time in each match, playing as either a small forward or shooting guard.
"They are my two favourite positions and [the roles] are pretty much the same. It's also pretty much what my build is."
Beck is not short, but at 1.77 metres, she is no giant on a basketball court.
"I'm quite tall for a girl, but not compared with the average basketball player. But I'm tall compared with other people in my position."
Beck is the second youngest player in the Junior Tall Ferns squad, but impressed coach Sean Fuller, in China.
"She was one of our top performers," Fuller said.
"She averaged about 12 points and eight rebounds a game and that was against bigger and more experienced players, so she did pretty well.
"She started the first couple of games but she expends that much energy, that we found we got better results from her when she was coming off the bench, when the game was two or three minutes old.
"It also gave her a chance to see how the game was progressing.
"She's very athletic, with good elevation and gets to the basket really well. She seems to get there almost with ease."
The main target for the Junior Tall Ferns this year is the Oceania under-19 tournament at Porirua in September, where they will meet Australia for a place in the 2013 world championships.
Beck was the leading scorer for the Hutt Valley Flyers, who had a 5-0 winning record in the opening round of the women's championships, in Nelson last month. The second round will be played in Hutt Valley from July 20 to 22.
"Stella was our top scorer across the board, at 11.8. That isn't high, but that's the way I like it," Flyers coach Denise Morgan said.
"I prefer the scoring to be spread across the team, rather than rely on one or two players."
Like Fuller, Morgan enjoys Beck's energy.
"I love the fact that she will give it all, her work rate, her competitiveness and her tenacity," Morgan said. "She is one of those players who knows how to score. Give [the ball] to her and she will take it to the hoop. She has a nice outside shot as well.
"She's had a lot of success, but is still willing to listen to what I have to say."
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The Dominion Post