A classy Australian Indigenous basketball team went 1-0 up in a three-game series, with a nail-biting 87-82 win against New Zealand Maori at the Gisborne YMCA in New Zealand last night.
Former Cairns Taipan Deba George was the star of the show, scoring 33 points as the Apunipima Australian Indigenous All Stars’ look to defend the title of the annual Trans-Tasman championship against New Zealand’s Maori national team.
The team comprises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island talent and has plenty of NBL experience. George is joined by another former Taipan in Kerry Williams and Tyson Demos who played for 222 NBL games for both the Gold Coast Blase and Illawarra Hawks (2007-2016).
The defending champs also include Travis Thorne (Darwin), Aaron Bin Tahal (Cairns), Marshall Ware (Townsville), Tidjane Diop (Mackay), Andrew Taylor (Brisbane), Jacob Davis (Brisbane), Simon Taylor (Logan), Reece Craigie (Sydney) and Daniel David (Canberra).
The scene was set for a thriller when Mere Boynton sang the New Zealand national anthem and then the Maori team, including two late ring-ins — Gisborne’s Reg Namana and Rongomai Smith — launched into a haka that got the crowd going.
Namana, who got court time in the third quarter, and Smith were brought into the team after Aaron Bailey-Knowles and Maori skipper, former New Zealand Breakers star Lindsay Tait, were ruled out with injuries.
“Lindsay is recovering from an injury and while we are disappointed that he and Aaron couldn’t make it tonight, we need them for games 2 (in Te Awatamu tonight) and 3 (Tauranga, on Saturday),” said Maori coach Jeff Green who was also the inaugural coach of the New Zealand Breakers NBL team.
“We’re disappointed not to win but games between any New Zealand team and Australia in any sport are always fiercely fought and physical, and this was no different. It was anybody’s game until the last few seconds.”
Indigenous coach Joel Khaul agreed.
“It could have gone either way but at the end of the day we got lucky, It’s three games in three days, which is never easy but the team is really excited about the challenge and we’ve been preparing for a real battle,” Aussie coach Joel Khalu said.
“We really enjoyed our time here. We arrived in Gisborne on Wednesday and had some skills sessions with school kids, and that’s another part of why we’re here — to give something back to the community.”
Forward Hyrum Harris and guards Brook Ruscoe and Daniel Green (Jeff’s son) led the Maori charge.
Green top scored with 22 points, including six three-pointers, as the Maori team never let the Indigenous side get far away from them.
New Zealand’s Ross Taurima shot the first basket of the night, and they stayed in front until one minute 33 seconds from the end of the first quarter, at the end of which Australia led 23-22.
The second quarter was similar, with never more than eight points between the sides at any stage, and at halftime the Aussies led 41-37.
Two minutes into the third quarter, the Maori edged ahead, and the teams went basket for basket until the quarter ended with New Zealand holding a two-point lead, 61-59.
The crowd were loving every minute of the game. When Daniel Green tied the scores at 70-all with a three-pointer from well outside the arc, six minutes from time, it was Game On.
Green kept his side in the hunt with two more treys and with two minutes remaining New Zealand were ahead 77-76.
That’s when George stepped up to take the game away from New Zealand, this included a thunderous dunk in the final minutes by the man who was MVP of last year’s match-up.
Kerry Williams showed why he was almost Rookie of the Year in the NBL in 2009, his class and experience towards the end was instrumental in delivering the victory.
Tidjane Diop, a 6’8″ forward who spent two years at Seattle University before returning to play in Australia’s QBL also made a valuable contribution with 16 points.
— Tyson Demos (@TysonDemos2) September 16, 2016
Friday, September 16 — Game 2 in Te Awamutu
Saturday, September 17 — Game 3 in Tauranga