Junior players on world stage

Southland's Tom Cowie playing for the New Zealand under-17 basketball team. Photo: Supplied

THE Southland basketball community will follow next month’s under-17 world championships in Argentina with plenty of interest as two of its products prepare to take to the court.

Tom Cowie and Mac Stoddard have been included in a 12-strong New Zealand squad which will open the tournament against Egypt in Rosario on June 30.

While the progress of the Southland Sharks in the National Basketball League over the past nine years has had basketball folk crowing, having two of its junior products compete on the world stage next month could be one of the Southland basketball’s more triumphant moments for some time.

The bulk of the teenagers’ development took place in Southland, although they have now both shifted north for school and basketball opportunities.

Cowie is at Westlake Boys’ High School in Auckland, while Stoddard is at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch.

Southland Basketball Association (SBA) general manager Jill Bolger said Cowie and Stoddard both started in the mini-ball ranks in Southland and progressed through the grades.

“We’ve had a smattering of players play at the junior national level over the years, but to have these two consistently part of [the national programme] is great,” she said.

The teenagers’ development had been aided by the various mentors in Southland over the years, including Kevin Braswell early on when he was the SBA development officer, and high school coach Richard Hamilton, Bolger said.

“We obviously don’t like to see them move away from the province, and that is probably a bit of a selfish reason. We would have liked for them to have continued their development here.

“I would love to see them back here one day playing for the Sharks and hopefully that is something they would like to do.

“I know [Sharks coach Judd Flavell] has talked to them about the Sharks being a good environment for them to develop.”

Cowie was part of the Sharks roster last year while Stoddard also trained with the team as a development player.

“How many 15 year olds get to bang body’s with Alex Pledger in training?” Bolger said.

New Zealand will join Canada, Egypt and Serbia and Montenegro in group play at the under-17 world championships. The five teams all finished second in their respective qualifying tournaments.

Cowie was a star when helping New Zealand qualify in the tournament played in China.

The point guard averaged 10.7 points and 2.8 assists a game. In the game against Iran, which New Zealand had to win to make it to Argentina, the former James Hargest College pupil contributed 17 points and five assists. New Zealand won 73-69.

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