The Apunipima Australian Indigenous All Stars are winners of the Trans-Tasman Basketball series, yet again, against the Maori National team.
The final, played in New Zealand at a sold out venue in the city of Gisborne this week, saw the All Stars working hard to hold off the Maoris.
The All Stars went into the halftime with scores leveled at 51, at the final whistle in the third quarter, they closed the match with a close 106-103 victory.
Guard, Deba George of the Albury-Wodonga Bandits proved himself a valuable player, sinking 37 baskets throughout the game. He was also well assisted by NBL veteran and All Stars captain, Tyson Demos, who scored 27 points of his own.
The winning glory came at a bit of a surprise, as the All Star’s hopes took a massive blow when centre Tidjane “TJ” Diop headed to the sidelines in the first quarter with a dislocated shoulder. Diop got entangled with Maori opposition player Hyrum Harris after chasing down a loose ball. Diop was taken from the facility for emergency hospital treatment soon after the incident.
Apunipima Australian Indigenous All Stars Head Coach Joel Khalu and coach of the Mackay Meteors, praised the team’s efforts post-game.
“It was definitely a huge blow when TJ went down with his dislocated shoulder, but the fantastic thing about this group is our depth,” he said.
“We could have easily packed up our bags and headed home early in that fourth quarter when we got down double digits, but the players dug deep and made big play after big play.
"... to be able to tie the rebound count at 30, without TJ, against a team that was much bigger and more athletic, I thought was pretty impressive.”
“The guys competed with huge hearts and to be able to tie the rebound count at 30, without TJ, against a team that was much bigger and more athletic, I thought was pretty impressive.”
The All Stars are now back-to-back winners of the series, having taken home the title last year at the games in Mackay, Queensland. The Trans-Tasman series began in 2014 – with New Zealand winning for that year – and aimed to create opportunities for Indigenous and culturally diverse groups in the Commonwealth through sport. There has been talk about including Canada’s first peoples in the series.
Khalu said that the team is now two from three in these Trans-Tasman matchups and with the 2017 series shifting back to Australia, their next goal will be to make it a three-peat.
Sponsors, Apunipima Cape York Health council CEO, Cleveland Fagan congratulated the team on their win.
“We congratulate the team on their win and for being positive role models for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander community and all Australians,” Mr. Fagan said.