BBNZ funding more free throw than slam dunk

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:02 20/12/2013

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Basketball has learned the hard way to be grateful for small mercies.

So when the over-achieving Kiwi branch of the world's second biggest sport picked up a paltry $200,000 in High Performance Sport NZ's latest funding round, there was a concerted effort to be thankful for what it did get, rather than to bemoan what it didn't.

But for the record Basketball NZ did not get as much as bowls ($280,000) or squash ($275,000) or softball ($250,000) for its 2014 national programme - all sports with minimal international profile.

And it got a pittance compared with hockey, which received a combined $2.3 million for its men's and women's national teams, and netball which has $1.2 million to spend in its quest to beat the two, possibly three, sides that comprise the top tier of the sport.

But Basketball NZ has a perspective that most of this country's leading sports don't. Last year they received nothing - not a brass razoo - to fund the men's and women's teams which concluded their seasons with World Cup qualifying series against the Australians.

So, $200,000 - all of which will go towards the Tall Blacks' campaign for the World Cup in Spain (Aug 30-Sept 14) - is a comparative luxury to an organisation that's in recent times been run on the smell of an oily rag.

"Hey, it's 200k we never had last year," said Tall Blacks skipper Mika Vukona yesterday. "It's a great Christmas present for Basketball New Zealand. Hopefully it will encourage the guys at colleges and other places round the world to come back and play."

Basketball NZ chief executive Iain Potter was a relieved man when the funding decision came through, also preferring to accentuate the positives, rather than the funding body's peculiar rationale.

"It's a huge sense of relief that we've got a foot back in the door," said Potter. "Next year is such an important year, with the World Cup for the Tall Blacks. It will cost us $450-500,000, so we've received less than half what we need, but it gives us a foundation we can build on.

"We know we can make it now, whereas [before this] I couldn't have looked you in the eye and said 'I know we can make it'."

The upshot will be the most significant buildup programme to the rebranded world champs since the 2002 campaign that saw the Tall Blacks finish a stunning fourth in Indianapolis.

Potter said he was about "80 per cent" through confirming a programme for Nenad Vucinic's side which it is hoped will include NBA sensation Steven Adams. The money will help cover additional costs, such as insurance, required to clear the way for the OKC Thunder star's participation.

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There is a definite home series against South Korea, the possibility of one other nation visiting these shores soon after and then international multi-team tournaments in Korea, France and Lithuania before heading to Spain.

"It's a pretty solid 10-week programme that should have them as prepared as they can be when they get to Spain," said Potter.

The Basketball NZ boss also admitted that this year's zero funding debacle had at least resulted in some positive spinoffs as the sport had been forced to think outside the square a little.

"It stimulated the conversation, and also stimulated a lot of conversations inside basketball about how we develop talent, how we fund ourselves, and finding commercial partners and ways of putting different basketball products in front of different people.

"In many respects it's been a great year because we've done a lot of thinking and planning and 2014 is about turning some of that into action."

Basketball NZ also announced a four-year partnership with Burger King that will see the launch of a new nationwide three-on-three series that it is hoped can develop along the same lines as the popular beach volleyball circuit.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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