The Press

US college basketball scout bounces into NZ

- OLIVIA CALDWELL Fairfax NZ

Recruiting Kiwi basketball prodigies has become a $10 million business and it doesn’t look like slowing.

The chief executive of United States company, Custom College Recruiting, Shane Howard, arrives in New Zealand next month with one mission only – to educate players on the potential of US college basketball.

In the last two years since he started visiting New Zealand and recruiting young basketball­ers, the total amount of aid given to Kiwi players has risen above $10 million.

Contracts for some individual­s can be worth $500,000 and Howard says the Kiwi talent is worth every cent.

‘‘New Zealand has establishe­d itself as a really special place for me. People in New Zealand give me an energy that’s really hard to explain.’’

In two years the number of players from New Zealand playing in the US has almost doubled. In the 2017 season 70 females and 50 males were playing scholarshi­p basketball, up from 50 across both sexes last year.

Howard predicts this to grow further and expects to bring over 200 players to the United States under the CCR umbrella next year.

His aim on his New Zealand visit is to educate Kiwis on the benefits of playing in the US and deliver them to clubs back home, he said.

What makes Kiwis so ‘‘recruitabl­e’’ he says, is the fact they are willing to leave the nest and explore the world, as we are ‘‘landlocked’ in the South Pacific. ‘‘New Zealand is not a really big place,’’ said Howard.

Working in partnershi­p with Basketball New Zealand, CCR and Howard aren’t stepping on anyone’s toes. He said the move to the US can only be seen as positive as it exposes players to top-end basketball, good opposition and coaching.

However, New Zealand’s best known basketball­er Steven Adams has shown there are down sides for New Zealand’s national game when a super star arises, as he was not been available for the Tall Blacks during the formative yar of his NBA career with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

However on Thursday Adams confirmed he is looking at playing for New Zealand.

‘‘A lot of athletes have seen the pathway he took and there are a lot who look up to him. Steven Adams is one of the best players in the world. There is not another Steven Adams walking in New Zealand at the moment,’’ Howard said.

Howard believes that Adams will inspire others to play the game and therefore help boost the popularity of basketball here and New Zealand’s basketball profile around the world.

‘‘It is positive, very much so. There are great coaches in New Zealand, but you can’t replicate the competitio­n here in the States.’’

He predicted that in five to eight years New Zealand would be rising on the world stage.

Basketball New Zealand CEO Iain Potter said it would be a narrow view to say overseas contracts were hindering our national side, but agreed the Tall Blacks would benefit from players like Adams.

‘‘The Tall Blacks management are in contact with him and when he’s ready, so are the Tall Blacks.’’

‘‘ ... The players in the Tall Blacks want to be there. They don’t get paid, our elite team is relatively underfunde­d and it’s not possible right now. Instead these players sacrifice a lot to be there. They spend time away from their families, they don’t fly first class and they usually tour on what can be a hectic schedule.

‘‘They do this for the love of their country, for the game, for the jersey and to be part of the famous Tall Blacks culture. This is truly a team that represents New Zealand on a massive world stage and they do it selflessly.’’

FIBA have agreed to release players from club commitment­s for the world championsh­ips qualifying games.

Softball doesn’t have the same numbers in New Zealand as rugby, football or netball – and here’s why: It’s a devilishly difficult game to master.

The hand-eye co-ordination of the Black Sox’s best batters is something to behold. Numerous scientific surveys have proven that hitting a softball or baseball hurled at over 120kmh is one of the most difficult feats in the sporting world. Try standing in a batter’s box 14 metres from an elite pitcher and hit a ball rising, dropping or curving across the plate.

The Black Sox do it in a breeze. They are elite athletes. How much better would they be if they, and their main rivals, were full-time pros? But would that detract from the legend of a team that bunked down in a cockroachi­nfested hostel to win a world championsh­ips in South Africa?

The Black Sox aren’t running bottle drives and chook raffles. They get around $250,000 a year from High Performanc­e Sport New Zealand (HPNZ) and a rumoured six-figure sum from principal sponsor Golden Homes. That’s enough for a major North American tour or world series each year, a few domestic training camps and some coaching and sports science support. But the New Zealand Rugby sevens men’s team – which failed to make a final in 2017 – got almost four times as much from HPSNZ ($900,000) despite being part of a multimilli­on dollar profession­al sport. Is that fair?

The Black Sox’s home run hero Joel Evans said it best when he returned home this week with the world series trophy.

‘‘It’s not about the money, this is a family sport.’’ Every family strives for external recognitio­n, but it’s what happens within the four walls that counts. Softball, having made a headlong dive into home plate, will dust off its black jersey, cock a snook at the critics and get on with doing what it does best – winning world titles.

‘‘The tournament was held in ‘deadset the middle of nowhere’, Canada, and broadcast to hardly anyone.’’

 ?? PHOTO: USA TODAY ?? Steven Adams is one of the success stories going from New Zealand to play in America.
PHOTO: USA TODAY Steven Adams is one of the success stories going from New Zealand to play in America.

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