Sean Marks laments NZ basketball's funding

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2013

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Kiwi NBA pioneer Sean Marks has joined the growing chorus of disapproval over High Performance Sport New Zealand's decision to cull the Tall Blacks' funding this year.

Tall Blacks assistant coach and former international standout Pero Cameron recently said the move would damage the men's game in New Zealand.

Marks, who is now the director of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs NBA team, and was the first Kiwi to play in the world's best basketball league, also weighed in on the debate in an interview with Fairfax Media.

Marks criticised the sports agency's failure to include the Tall Blacks in their funding allocation for 2013.

He said it was a major kick in the guts for past and present Tall Black players and coaches, who had helped put New Zealand on the international basketball map over the past decade.

"To be quite frank, it's a joke you can wipe away the fundraising back (in New Zealand). I think they're going about it all wrong," Marks said.

"I think they're doing a complete disservice to the sport in New Zealand.

"You tell me four or five other sports that deserve more funding, for what basketball has done for New Zealand over the past decade."

New Zealand has a promising group of emerging talents playing college basketball in the United States, including Steve Adams, Rob Loe and Isaac Fotu. Teenager Tai Webster, who shone for the Tall Blacks at their Olympic qualifying tournament in Venezuela last year, has also committed to the University of Nebraska for next season onwards.

In the absence of funding to put together an international programme for the Tall Blacks, Marks was worried about the chances of them wearing a black singlet in the future.

"If New Zealand basketball doesn't have funding behind it, there's a whole group of young players, who are going to be missing out. For (High Performance Sport New Zealand) to go ahead and say ‘We're not going to fund basketball at all, what are you telling these kids?'

"It's a shame because you're going to get them not playing for New Zealand. They're going to end up coming over to college and staying over here. You want these guys to be able to see growth in the sport."

The government-funded High Performance Sport has an overall annual budget of $62 million. Its investment and support priorities are sports and athletes that have the potential to medal at the Olympic Games.

Basketball New Zealand chief executive Iain Potter had asked the agency for $750,000, spread over two years to help the Tall Blacks try to achieve a top-16 finish at the 2014 world championships in Spain.

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The Tall Blacks failed to qualify for last year's Olympic Games in London and are ranked 18th in the world, but Marks said it was important to note that basketball was a global game and New Zealand had done well on the world stage at tournaments in the past.

Marks, who was part of the New Zealand side who finished fourth at the 2002 world championships, said the only way for the Tall Blacks to improve was regular games against leading international opposition. Due to New Zealand's isolation, the team needed to travel overseas, which required a budget for an international programme. The Tall Blacks have not played a test in New Zealand since 2009, which was disappointing for basketball fans in the country and the sport's exposure.

"Our guys have got to play against top-level competition in the world," he said.

"They can't just rely on trans-Tasman tournaments. It needs to be throughout Europe, throughout South America, Asia, and coming over to the States."

Since the agency's decision, Wellington Saints owner Nick Mills has registered his interest in leasing the Tall Blacks' brand to stop the men's game dying at international level.

Marks saluted New Zealand Breakers' owners Paul and Liz Blackwell for the outstanding job they had done on and off the court with the team and said he would love to see them involved with the Tall Blacks, if they were keen.

"I just feel bad for the sport. I think we need to get the right people involved in [New Zealand basketball].

"What Paul Blackwell and his family have done for the Breakers is a lot. They should be commended for that . . . Maybe they're involved with New Zealand basketball down the line. Those are the type of people the sport owes a lot to."

- The Southland Times

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