CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA - The Apunipima Australian Indigenous Basketball All Stars sealed their fourth consecutive Trans-Tasman title in New Zealand recently, but national team Head Coach Joel Khalu acknowledged that was just the beginning of preparations for the sides’ next major international goal.
“Winning a medal at the 2019 World Indigenous Basketball Championships is definitely on the agenda,” the Cairns-based mentor said.
“If we can earn a World Indigenous Championship medal, that will be something really special.”
The World Indigenous Basketball Championships are held biennially and the 2019 tournament is confirmed for late-March and will be contested across the ditch in New Zealand.
“It’s great that the World Championships will be played in NZ next year,” Khalu mentioned.
“We’re familiar with many of their venues from our battles with the Maori in recent years and that’s certainly beneficial.”
“Right now, we’re just waiting to see whether the tournament will be hosted in Rotorua or Wellington, but either way we’ll have a good sense of the playing environments across both cities.”
Khalu has been at the coaching helm of the men’s national Indigenous representative team since 2014 and in that span has guided the squad to four successful Trans-Tasman conquests. Under his tutelage, the team finished in eleventh place at the 2017 World Indigenous Basketball Championships held in Vancouver (Canada) and the passionate coach spoke about that event being a great learning experience.
“We didn’t really know what to expect going into that 2017 tournament,” he said.
“We took a younger group of players away and it was our very first time competing against other national Indigenous representative teams outside of the New Zealand Maori.”
“It was challenging to prepare for, not really knowing what the styles of play were going to be.”
“We lost our opening game by three-points and that defeat automatically put us in the bottom half of the sixteen-team bracket.”
“Now that we know more about our potential competition and can scout better, I have no doubt that we could be a top four team, particularly if we can assemble our strongest possible line-up.”
A full-strength roster for the All Stars could include the likes of Bamaga big-man Nathan Jawai, who is currently playing for the Cairns Taipans in the NBL, along with European-based rising stars Keanu Pinder (Perth) and William McDowell-White (Brisbane).
“Of course, we’d love to have Patty (Mills) too, but while he’s still playing in the NBA it’s unlikely to happen, which is completely understandable.”
“The addition of Nate (Jawai) would take our team to a whole new level, just via his size and tenacity. Hopefully we can get him in an Indigenous uniform for the World Champs, pending his NBL and possible Australian Boomers commitments around that time.”
“This is not to forget other former NBL players that could make up the roster including Deba George, the Cedar brothers (Christopher and Michael), Kerry Williams and Tyson Demos.”
“Then there’s a whole new brigade of rising talent including Tamuri Wigness, who’s based at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra and Verle Williams Jnr. who currently trains with the Brisbane Bullets.”
“We’ve also had many other young players shine over our past four Trans-Tasman campaigns.”
The defending World Indigenous Champions are the Lords of the Plains, a Native-American team made up of players from across the United States.
“They (Lords of the Plains) had an outstanding group in Canada. Eight of their ten guys were playing professionally in Europe and another one of their team members was competing in the NBA G-League.”
“I think our team at full-strength will definitely have the ability to compete with them though and we’ll be up for that challenge, if or when the time arrives,” Khalu added.
The 2019 World Indigenous Basketball Championships are scheduled for March 23-30 and will be hosted by New Zealand Maori Basketball Aotearoa.