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Rising NZ basketball star sizes up NBA giants: ‘It’s going to be surreal’

Author
Nick Bewley,
Publish Date
Fri, 25 Aug 2023, 2:12pm
Walter Brown will play his first FIBA Basketball World Cup for the Tall Blacks. Photo / FIBA
Walter Brown will play his first FIBA Basketball World Cup for the Tall Blacks. Photo / FIBA

Rising NZ basketball star sizes up NBA giants: ‘It’s going to be surreal’

Author
Nick Bewley,
Publish Date
Fri, 25 Aug 2023, 2:12pm

For many athletes, playing at a World Cup is the culmination of years of work – and investment. 

Talent identification, academies and age group rep sides are part of our sporting fabric for better or worse. Pour in resources and prepare kids to make the ascent to the professional ranks and reap the future rewards. 

That’s not to say it’s an unsuccessful model, far from it, but often it can lead to those who take longer to develop slipping through the cracks or becoming disillusioned and chucking it in altogether. 

Fortunately for the Tall Blacks, 20-year-old Cantabrian Walter Brown never wavered. 

When he made his international debut under coach Pero Cameron last year, it was the first time he represented New Zealand at any level. Fast forward to this weekend, he’s the youngest member of the Tall Blacks 12-strong squad at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. 

“If you love doing it that much, you’ll just keep persisting,” Brown tells the Herald from his hotel room in Manilla ahead of New Zealand’s opening game against the United States on Sunday morning NZT. 

“I always felt like I was going to bloom at some stage, I felt like I was going to get there I just didn’t know how long it was going to take. Thankfully, the persisting has paid off.” 

Walter Brown has impressed for the championship-winning Canterbury Rams in the NZ NBL. Photo / Supplied

Walter Brown has impressed for the championship-winning Canterbury Rams in the NZ NBL. Photo / Supplied 

Brown freely admits he was no superstar coming through high school at St Bede’s College in Christchurch and growing up in North Canterbury. A talented young rugby player, and cricketer, when it came to basketball he’d happily fill the unfashionable tag of a role player, comfortable with whatever task his coach would ask of him. 

That mindset has continued through to the National Basketball League this season where he was named Youth Player of the Year for the Canterbury Rams. Brown’s averages were nothing to hammer home about, averaging 10 points and five rebounds, but it was the work that didn’t show on the box score that saw him play a pivotal role in the Rams ending a 31-year title drought. 

“The first Canterbury team I made was under-15s and the coach said to me ‘You’ll come off the bench and we want you to do these sorts of things’. And in my head, I’m like, sweet. Like I just want to win every game I play so I’ll do whatever needs to be done,” Brown said. 

“It might not be for me to score the ball; it might be for me to guard the other team’s best player or make sure they don’t get any offensive rebounds. Whatever the team needs me to do.” 

The Tall Blacks will need that attitude and willingness from the opening jump at the World Cup. 

New Zealand are considered a 20-1 chance of beating tournament heavyweights the United States in their opening game in front of 15,000 fans packed into Manila’s Mall of Asia Stadium. 

While Team USA might be without household names like LeBron James and Steph Curry, the next wave of superstar talent is on hand. Anthony Edwards – a former number one NBA draft pick for the Minnesota Timberwolves – looms as a tournament MVP candidate alongside guard Tyrese Haliburton. 

“It’s going to be surreal, like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It probably won’t hit me until the game starts and I’m out there,” Brown admits. 

“Anthony Edwards plays a similar position to me, he’s a rising superstar in the NBA. Just saying you were able to go up against him, that’d be cool if I could do that.” 

- Nick Bewley is a Newstalk ZB sports journalist, sports news reader, and commentator based in Christchurch. 

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