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Steven Adams: What Being Drafted Does for New Zealand Basketball

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Steven Adams: What Being Drafted Does for New Zealand Basketball
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When Steven Adams' name was read out as the No. 12 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, there was a lot more done for basketball in New Zealand than simply having a player drafted.

While New Zealanders can all be proud that one of their own has made it to basketball's biggest stage, the flow-on benefits that will come to the sport in the Adams' homeland are perhaps the bigger prize. This is huge for basketball in New Zealand, far greater than any one player.

While it has gained a lot of ground over the past decade, basketball still ranks well behind rugby union, rugby league and cricket in terms of the country's most popular sports. Consequently it is these sports that attract the country's best athletes—and even then rugby league and cricket tend to struggle to compete with rugby union in attracting superstars.

Furthermore, basketball currently does not receive government funding in New Zealand. All of the money within the sport in New Zealand has to come from either sponsors or the players themselves. Of course this drastically reduces the amount of development Basketball New Zealand is able to undertake, as well as creates another financial barrier for players who cannot afford to play the game. 

The result is fewer quality players coming through the ranks, as children sway towards the more traditional sports that they are able to play at a lower price.

But now with Steven Adams there is increased hope that these problems will be overcome, or at least diminished. 

People that previously may have had little interest in the NBA now have a reason to support a team and follow basketball. As it increases in popularity, it will inevitably gain more media space, which will give it more exposure and will in turn encourage more youngsters to take up the sport. These kids will  have a role model to aspire to as well, which can only be good. 

This is the first key, getting some of the best athletes playing basketball. You can have all the money and development programmes you want, but that means little if the best athletes have already decided at a young age that they want to be All Blacks.

There are plenty of good athletes in New Zealand, but the majority of them play rugby union, which is rarely seen in large parts of the world, particularly in the USA. Indeed it is no coincidence that New Zealand is by far and away the best rugby country in the world.

However, once these athletes are in the sport, it is important to get the best out of them by setting up a quality development system. The best way this can be done is through gaining funding from the government, which will enable them to invest in better equipment and to cut the cost for things such as entering national tournaments.

One of the criteria Sport New Zealand outlines in its decision as to who gets funding is performance. This is where Adams being drafted in the lottery becomes huge, as basketball has again produced a player who has shown himself capable of making it to the highest level. Only three New Zealanders have thus far made it to the NBA: Kirk Penney, Sean Marks and Aron Baynes.

Add to the selection the possibility of developing more talent as a result of Adams' success, and it is not far-fetched to expect Basketball New Zealand to get some funding in 2014. 

If this happens then Adams may be just the start of a line of talent to come out of New Zealand. 

Even now there are a handful of other good young prospects coming through. Tai Webster proved himself at the OIympic Qualifying Tournament last year with the national team while still at school, while Isaac Fotu, Tom Abercrombie and Reuben Te Rangi are all quality players with big aspirations too.

But there is so much more talent that could be coming through if it were given the chance.

Of course it relies on Adams' success having the impact it is expected to. But it is not entirely a new situation. Basketball saw a similar increase in popularity in New Zealand in 2002, when the national team finished fourth at the FIBA World Championships.

Interest in the sport boomed and more kids started picking up basketballs, rather than lacing up rugby boots. It is only now that we are beginning to see the effects of this, as players in that age range begin to leave school and stake their claim on a bigger stage.

Could it happen again? Absolutely it could. 

There is no doubting that this is a huge development for Basketball New Zealand. But until then, all of New Zealand will be enjoying the ride as they follow their new basketball hope in his bid to become an NBA star. 

And it is good to see Adams has not forgotten his roots either. "I'm pretty much just doing it as a Kiwi," he said to Shane Battier minutes after hearing his name called.

Doing it as a Kiwi, that is something four million people can relate to. Only this kiwi found his wings and flew all the way to the NBA.

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