The Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats recently announced the import signings of Marita Davydova and Deanna Kuzmanic for the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball season.
Whilst these signings catch the media attention it is the club’s development system and player pathway that underpins the Wildcats programme.
For the past 4 seasons the Wildcats have offered scholarships to some 85 up-and-coming Canterbury basketballers.
2020 will be no different said Wildcats chair Murray Kennedy.
“Twenty-two girls (last season it was twenty) will receive Wildcats Scholarships, eleven U15 players and eleven U17 players.”
Each girl selected will be mentored for the season by a Wildcats player and, thanks to the generosity of a family of donor sponsors, receive a personalised training singlet and a some basketball costs covered.
“We are indebted to the support of our donor sponsors who support two of the scholarship recipients and a Wildcats player.
“The twenty-two lucky players will be chosen by a selection panel but it is not just about money as each player is also mentored by a Wildcats player. The Wildcats players are encouraged to take an active role in supporting the young scholarship recipients by watching their school or rep games or maybe having shooting practice with them.
“I believe the programme is a major part of the Wildcats culture and to have our sponsors buying into the whole package is rewarding.
“Basketball is an expensive sport to fund for families of successful young players so providing a little bit of help for them both on and off court is key,” added Kennedy.
New Wildcats Head Coach Dene Robinson sees the scholarship programme offering major benefits to both the young players and the club as a whole.
“It was a significant attraction for me when taking on the head coach role with the Wildcats.
“I can see the programme provides a clear pathway for young female athletes to transition to the Wildcats and the Sal’s NBL.
“The benefit is clear to see with players such as Helen Matthews, Ashlee Strawbridge, Tsubasa Nisbett and Sofia Kennedy all having the opportunity to wear the Wildcats singlet,” added Robinson.
Mathews, a current Wildcat and Junior Tall Fern, has experienced both sides of the programme. She enters her second season on the Wildcats playing roster having been a recipient for two years previously.
“My first mentor was Hayley Gray and in my second year it was Ashlee Fane.
“I was pretty lucky having Ash as a mentor as she was also my coach at Kaiapoi High. We had a really close connection so I learnt a lot off her.
“It’s just cool being around senior players and the Wildcats environment when you are younger. You get to see how the older players train and prepare for games.
“The level is a lot higher than school and age group basketball so having guidance from more experienced players is really beneficial.”
Helen is looking forward to helping with the development of two young players in 2020.
“I mentored Lily Gaughn and Aliyah Newton in 2019. They are both from North Canterbury which is the region I am from so I hope to be able to help a couple more players this year,” added Helen.
Experienced Wildcat and former Tall Fern Shea Crotty also believes the programme is hugely beneficial to the scholarship recipients.
“Last year I mentored Lauren Whittaker and Cassidy Brunel and I couldn’t have asked for two nicer young people to work with. They are great kids and were well deserving of the scholarships.
Shea admits that finding time to be with the players can be quite challenging.
“It is quite difficult because we are playing similar seasons but it is totally worthwhile.
“I try and get to weekend trainings or school games but a lot is over the phone giving guidance with not only on court matters but also off court disappointments. I can also assist during tournaments helping with goal setting and issues as they arise. A lot of communication is on the phone via texts and calls.
“I would also like to thank Miles Toyota. They are phenomenal supporters of the programme which couldn’t be the success it is without their help and that of all our other sponsors,” added Crotty.
The Wildcats have begun pre-season training ahead of the Sal’s NBL season which begins in late April.
An additional link in the player pathway chain will be the addition of a Canterbury team playing in the Women’s Development League (D League). More details to follow on this new initiative.