AM I FIT Otago Gold Rush forward Zoe Richards has been called in as a late replacement in the Tall Ferns squad departing for a tour of Asia tomorrow.
The 21-year old will replace Charlotte Whittaker who has been forced to withdraw from the squad due to injury.
For Richards it will be her first time playing international basketball. Unlike most players in the squad, Richards hasn’t previously played age-group basketball for New Zealand.
“I am very excited and grateful for this opportunity,” enthused Richards.
“I found out last Saturday when Guy (Tall Ferns coach Guy Molloy) asked if I was available for selection. After speaking with my coach in the States I was able to confirm my availability on Sunday.
“Now I can’t wait to meet up with the team. I want to make the most of the experience, soak up all the information and do the best I can without putting any unrealistic pressure on myself.”
Richards, a former standout from Dunedin’s St Hilda’s Collegiate, has spent the last three years playing college basketball in the US.
Initially she spent a season (2016-17) at Gillette College playing alongside twin sister Brittany.
Ironically, Richards was at Gillette at the same time as Mary Goulding who, just last week, was pulled into the squad to replace Natalie Taylor.
“Mary and I are really good friends as we shared a dorm together at college. We message each other regularly so it is great that we have made the Tall Ferns squad together.”
Since her time at Gillette she has played two seasons with Eckerd College Tritons, an NCAA Division II school.
Last season she played all 32 games for the Paul Honsinger coached Tritons scoring in double digits on 20 occasions. She was second on the team in scoring (10.7ppg) and led the Tritons in field goal percentage (55.0%). Named to the Sunshine State Conference All-Tournament Team after helping the Tritons to the SSC Conference Final where they fell, agonizingly, 61-60 to Florida Southern University. Richards was also named the team’s MVP.
Richards wants to take the experience she gains on the upcoming international tour back to Eckerd.
“Coach Honsinger is very supportive and wants me to make the most of the experience, develop my own game and share the knowledge I gain when I return to college in September.”
Despite her college commitments Richards has returned to hometown Dunedin for the last two Women’s Basketball Championship (WBC) seasons.
In 2018 she helped Otago Gold Rush win the WBC championship and this season she led the Gold Rush in both scoring (16.4ppg) and rebounding (6.8rpg).
“The level of the WBC has increased a lot and you can see all the teams are dedicated to being successful. Although we didn’t have the best of seasons I was really lucky to be able to come back and play for the Gold Rush. Playing with and against top players is really awesome for me to not only get better but also stay basketball fit,” said Richards.
Otago Basketball CEO Justin Ludlow is full of praise for Richards.
“This is a great reward for Zoe who comes back from college each WBC season better than the year before. She trains and plays hard and it is a great testament to her commitment to the sport particularly in getting better as an athlete.”
Richards becomes the second Gold Rush player to receive a call up to the national senior team in the past twelve months following Nicole Ruske’s debut at the William Jones Cup in 2018.
The only downside for Zoe is that the time she and twin Brittany spend together has been cut short.
“She and the rest of the family are really excited for me but, because we are at different colleges, this is the only time of year we get to spend a good amount of time together,” said Zoe.
Good news for the pair, and Otago basketball, is that they will get one last chance to spend time together in August.
“We are going to play at U23 Nationals together along with Nicole and Aleisha Ruske. It will be the last time we are all able to play at a New Zealand age group tournament.”
For now though it is back to focusing on Tall Ferns commitments, the team departing for Japan on Friday.
Tall Ferns Team:
Stella Beck (Launceston Tornadoes/Melbourne Boomers)
Tessa Boagni (Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats)
Micaela Cocks (Townsville Fire)
Penina Davidson (Harbour Breeze/Melbourne Boomers)
Toni Farnworth (Ringwood Hawks)
Matangiroa Flavell (Harbour Breeze)
Ella Fotu (Harbour Breeze)
Mary Goulding (Rockhampton Cyclones)
Charlisse Leger-Walker (Waikato Wizards)
Esra McGoldrick (McAlpines M10 Mega North Canterbury Spirit/North Carolina State University)
Chevannah Paalvast (Sunshine Coast Rip)
Kalani Purcell (Auckland Dream/Melbourne Boomers)
Zoe Richards (AM I FIT Otago Gold Rush/Eckerd College)
Amy West (McAlpines M10 Mega North Canterbury Spirit/Liberty University)
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