Schoolgirls make Junior Tall Ferns

MADE THE GRADE: Wellington Girls' College basketball team-mates Camece Salmon, left, and Meaghan Wilby have both been picked for the Junior Tall Ferns.
MADE THE GRADE: Wellington Girls' College basketball team-mates Camece Salmon, left, and Meaghan Wilby have both been picked for the Junior Tall Ferns.

Camece Salmon and Meaghan Wilby have every excuse to head to the gym and shoot a few hoops.

The Wellington Girls' College schoolmates are required to put up 300 shots a day as part of their training for the Junior Tall Ferns.

Wellington has a strong presence in the Junior Tall Ferns (New Zealand under-19) with Salmon and Wilby joined by Hutt Valley High School's Stella Beck to provide a third of the squad.

Eighteen players were named in a training squad in late December and that was reduced to 12 this month for a tour of China in April, with the three Wellington contenders making the cut.

There are also three Wellington players – Tom Vodanovich (St Pat's Town), Jordan Letoa (Wellington College) and Wellington College old boy Zach Young – in the extended Junior Tall Blacks training squad.

The long-term target for both junior squads is the Oceania under-19 championships, which will be held in Porirua, at the Te Rauparaha Arena, in September.

The Oceania tournament will comprise a three-game series against Australian junior teams with the main prize being a place in the 2013 under-19 world championships.

Wilby and Salmon now frequently spend their lunch breaks in the Wellington Girls' gym and Salmon, who lives in Porirua, also has access to a gym "just down the road".

Salmon, a year 13 pupil, had not made a national team since being a non-travelling reserve at under-16 level and went to the final selection camp last month without any expectations. "I didn't expect anything and just decided to see what would happen."

However, there was a family precedent, as her older sister, Jasana, played for the Junior Tall Ferns.

Salmon, a Mormon, also needed to make an impression on the first day of the camp, as she does not play on Sundays. "I had one day to give it heaps and I thought I did alright."

The 17-year-old, who expects to be used as a power forward with the Junior Tall Ferns, is about 1.83 metres (six foot) and has been playing basketball "since I was little".

"The whole family plays and it's the main sport for our extended family."

Salmon's mother, Melody, attended Church College in Hamilton, which was a renowned basketball nursery.

Salmon, who was previously at Mana College, transferred to Wellington Girls' last year and along with Wilby played a key role in qualifying the school team for the national secondary schools finals for the first time.

Wellington Girls' made the final of the premier division in the Wellington schools competition last year and finished a respectable 11th in the national finals.

Wilby was a New Zealand under-18 representative last year and has made various age-group squads in the past. "After the first camp I was quite optimistic about making the 18-person squad and hoping to make the 12," Wilby said. "But you never really know because you don't know what type of player they are looking for.

"It's really nice to have Camece in the team too, as we can practice together rather than have to do it by yourself."

Wilby, 17, first became interested in basketball after a visit to her primary school by high-profile Tall Fern Gina Farmer and has been playing since.

Sixteen-year-old Beck, who has been prominent in the outstanding Hutt Valley High School team, is one of the younger members of the Junior Tall Ferns squad and has already been a New Zealand representative at the under-16 and under-17 level.

The year 12 pupil will be back at school next year but, along with Salmon and Wilby, is likely to be looking for scholarship opportunities at United States colleges. "I can't think of anything else I want to do more," Beck said.

Beck will have a small forward role with the Junior Tall Ferns and has a good chance of being in the starting five. "She was a standout at the camp," coach Sean Fuller said. "She's very fit, hard to shut down with the ball, rebounds well and has a reasonable mid-range shooting game."

Fuller was also happy with the way Salmon and Wilby took their chances at the training camp. "Camece has a bit of size about her but has really good skills for a big girl. She has the skills of a guard.

"Meaghan is an out and out hustler. She might be a bit light for what we want but she has a never-say-die attitude and you can't fault her commitment."

The Junior Tall Ferns are scheduled to play nine games in China, against under-19 teams from China, Japan and South Korea.

"We want to get some competition that is the equal or better than we will face against Australia, who will be a bigger team than us," Fuller said. "China usually has big teams and the tournament will give us an indication of what we will need to work on before we meet Australia."