The Canterbury Rams has a strong local flavour with the naming of a 12-strong summer training squad following the conclusion of a month-long Rams Summer League this week.

The squad adds to the initial key signings of third year Captain Marques Whippy, a returning to Canterbury NZ Select team guard Tony Tolovae and the lightning-quick lefty guard Taylor Britt.

The objective of the Rams has always been to create a development pathway where there is a flow of players coming back from US Colleges wanting to suit up for the Rams alongside other local players. This has started with Taylor Britt’s return, and while still probably 1-2 seasons away from the initial goal, the change in NBL rules has fast tracked the Rams progression. The NBL rules now allow teams to have three imports and the reclassification of Pacific Island players like Whippy (Fijian) as imports from 2018 onwards.

Meanwhile the Rams will continue to operate a prudent financial model where resources are invested into development. The challenge with the NZ NBL is taking a young local player and developing them to the point where they can compete and contribute consistently, with the top NZ NBL clubs having ANBL level players.

The establishment of the Mainland Eagles Academy has helped with supporting 22 players from throughout the South Island to receiving US College scholarships. Part of this process was to support young people in pursuing their academic and athletic endeavours with the hope some of them would return to play for the Rams upon completion. Britt becomes the first player to return to the Rams since a US college stint and the Rams will be looking forward to more returning over the next 2-3 years.

“We are excited to be bringing this group of strong team-first individuals to represent the Canterbury Basketball community and Rams singlet with pride,” said Coach Mark Dickel.

“The squad is going to put in a lot of hard work from now until the start of the season in late April, and continuing until the season concludes in August. We are young, hungry and determined to improve every day and embrace the grind,” said Coach Mark Dickel.

“Marques Whippy will be our captain and leader on the floor. He has immersed himself in the local culture and is very well respected on and off the court,” said Coach Mark Dickel.

“The summer league was a success as we had high level games. The boys showed their individual skills and we were able to see the best players in Christchurch. Looking forward we are on track to have a unified team. It’s going to be a lot of work but the boys are committed to trust the process and come April 2018 we should be ready for the season,” said Captain Marques Whippy.

Canterbury’s successful 2017 U19, U23 and HoopNation campaigns have seen seven players emerge from those three-national title winning sides to the Rams training squad. Although representative success at these levels don’t always translate to instant success at the NBL level, it allows the Rams to build on a young local foundation.

Max Darling and Max De Geest were members of the Canterbury U19 team, which has won two titles in three years. Taylor Britt and Nathan Campbell helped the Canterbury U23 side to their second championship in three years and made four straight grand finals. Five squad members were a part of the Canterbury Knights team that took out the HoopNation title in October including Marques Whippy, Taylor Britt, Nathan Campbell, Nick Erwood, and Tony Tolovae.

The young players on the squad are beginning the process of trialing for the Tall Blacks National programme. Five players were a part of NZ representative sides in 2017 headed by Tony Tolovae with the NZ Select team tour of China and Josh Aitcheson who was a starter at the U19 FIBA World Cup in Cairo, Egypt.

Three players are a part of the Mainland Eagles Academy team that is heading over to Las Vegas this month as a part of developmental tour to play against some top high schools and academies. Darling, De Geest and Tom Higgins departed with Rams and Eagles head coach Mark Dickel for Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Forwards Nick Erwood and Nathan Campbell have played for Canterbury throughout the junior age group levels and won NZ U23 and HoopNation titles with the Canterbury Knights. Erwood attended Burnside High School, is a graduate of the Lincoln University basketball scholarship programme and he also was a part of the Premier club title-winning Pioneer team this season. Erwood was one of the outstanding contributors in the Summer League finishing first in rebounds and fourth in assists per game.

Campbell graduated from Christchurch Boys’ High School and has been completed a degree in Psychology and Criminology at Victoria University and has played Premier club basketball with the University of Canterbury for five seasons.

Shooting guard De Geest and forward Darling performed admirably at the U19 Nationals and NZ Secondary School Championships, leading Christ’s College to a credible fourth placing which is the highest placed Christchurch school finish since Aranui Academy in 1999. Both were Rams development squad members in 2017 and will look to move up in the rotation. They will also train with the Mainland Eagles Academy before they head to US colleges.

Aitcheson and Richard Rodger travelled from Dunedin and performed strongly in part of the Rams Summer and Birdman Leagues. Aitcheson is entering the second year of a Commerce degree. Rodger has previously lived in Christchurch following high school and represented Canterbury at U19 level and local club Wolverines. Rodger was also a team-mate with Britt at Southeast Community College in the USA.

Higgins, 198cm, is a young big man from Auckland Grammar and will train also train with the Mainland Eagles in preparation for US College later in 2018.

Two further imports will be named closer to the season to complement the players in the training squad and will likely fit the guard and forward/centre positions respectively.

The National Basketball League is back to eight teams this season with the return of the Manawatu Jets. With the expanded international Tall Blacks campaign and World Championships qualifying windows, the season returns to a late April start and the finals weekend on August 3-5 (dates tbc). Early favorites include the Wellington Saints, Southland Sharks, Super City Rangers & Hawkes Bay Hawks who have all signed a number of ANBL and Tall Black level players.

The Canterbury Rams schedule has been confirmed and will include one home game at Horncastle Arena on Friday 8 June against the two-time defending champion Wellington Saints for the Huntley–Gordon Trophy.

“It is important to us to play a game at Horncastle Arena to allow more Cantabrians to experience a basketball game. We have the fastest growing sport in the area and we want the Horncastle game to highlight all of the good happening in basketball and throughout the community,” said Rams Head Coach Mark Dickel.

Season Memberships are now available which will include all 8 Cowles Stadium home games with the memberships including a seat for the Saints vs Rams showdown at Horncastle Arena on 8th June. Individual tickets for all home games are also available including the Horncastle game.


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