Basketball: WNBL calendar clash avoided to court netball crossovers

This year's NZ women's basketball league has a distinct netball flavour, with four players with Beko or ANZ Premiership experience involved.

The comparable skills make for an easy transition between the sports, but as the demands and commitments required from both have increased over the years, fewer have made the crossover at a senior level.

Netball - at least in this country - appears to be the main benefactor with a greater profile and more visible professional pathway, despite basketball often being the preferred game growing up.

"I used to play when I was younger, but then I started playing netball quite seriously and I sort of stopped playing" Southern Steel netball captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit tells Newshub.

"Basketball used to be my main sport, then netball became my main sport and it took over virtually my whole life," she laughs.

Selby-Rickit has gone on to forge a successful 10-year professional career playing for the Steel and Central Pulse.

Someone at the beginning of her netball career is NZ U21 vice-captain Paris Lokotui, who recently landed a 2021 Pulse contract.

"I played both sports during school and then only last year, I decided to take netball seriously," she says. "I was able to play school basketball, but didn't take basketball any further.

"I think, for me personally, it was the route I wanted to take. Both sports are equally fun and enjoyable, but i just wanted to take netball more seriously.

"In New Zealand, netball is more represented. Basketball as an up-and-coming sport, with athletes allowed to go overseas and make their careers, is also great, but for me, I just wanted to set one thing straight and then make that netball."

Lokotui's choice is one that many talented female athletes end up making. Silver Ferns shooters Maia Wilson and Aliyah Dunn were standout national age-group basketballers, who have gone on to make a splash internationally in netball.

Donna Wilkins (formerly Loffhagen) played international basketball and netball
Donna Wilkins (formerly Loffhagen) played international basketball and netball. Photo credit: Photosport

"The reason I haven't played is because basketball and netball go at the same time, which is really unfortunate, so you kind of have to chose," Selby-Rickit says.

But this year's delayed national basketball competition means Selby-Rickit and Lokotui have been able to play for Capital Swish.

Lokotui starred in their opening game, scoring 14 points and collecting 13 rebounds in their 55-42 win over Canterbury. Selby-Rickit was also two points off recording a 'double double'.

Basketball NZ is aware what netballers can add to the competition, so it will make a conscious effort to ensure next year's schedule - expected to be announced in the next few weeks - doesn't conflict with the rival season.

"Some of the very best Tall Ferns in the past have been elite netballers and some of the best elite netballers have been elite basketballers," says BBNZ national leagues general manager Justin Nelson.

"We need to make sure that we carve out a space in our season that compliments netball."

Nelson hopes the move will entice more netballers across to play and strengthen the women's programme in this country.

"There's no doubt our high performance coaches and Tall Ferns coach Guy Molloy want to make sure we're attracting the best athletes to basketball in this country, because those global opportunities are really important, not only for the athlete, but Tall Ferns as well."

The strategy may see a return to the Belinda Colling-Donna Wilkins era - two of our most famous basketball-netball dual internationals.

Admittedly, times are different. The commitment required to do one sport - let alone two - has increased significantly, not to mention the near year-long international calendar for both sports.

Regardless, a realignment of the national basketball schedule would be the first move to help that happen and Lokotui, who represented New Zealand basketball at U16 level, would love the chance to do both.

 "If I do get the opportunity, I definitely would," says Lokotui.

Both Lokotui and Selby-Rickit want to see more ANZ Premiership players contest the WNBL. Selby-Ricket decided to play this year to keep her skills and fitness up during the off-season.

"I think this would be great for netball players in the off season," she says.

"Boxing out, learning to shoot, learning to move, learning to pick up players quickly... I think that's great. I hope more netballers come back to basketball or get into basketball."

Whether ANZ Premiership coaches would allow it remains to be seen. Basketball NZ is at least giving itself a chance to bolster its programme by giving the players the choice once again.