Eight locally-based and two international men’s basketball players are at the ready to dunk hoops for the Cook Islands, but have yet to secure funding to the tune of $25,000 needed for the trip to Samoa. It’s the final hurdle in what has been a challenging year of unfortunate events for Basketball Cook Islands.
National men’s coach George Williams, who only took up the position two months ago, says he is still hopeful that the men’s team can secure funding to attend the tournament.
He explains that it’s crucial for the Cook Islands attends the event, organised to give smaller Oceania countries the opportunity to grow out of the shadows of big brothers New Zealand and Australia.
“This event is a qualifier for the Pacific Games coming up and if we don’t attend, we won’t have another opportunity to play a major tournament for another four years,” says Williams.
It has been a challenging year of unfortunate events for the code, which a year ago began the campaign for the tournament by appointing New Zealand-based head coach Tai Upoko, with his wife Caroline at team manager.
The pair recruited around 15 international players to prepare for the upcoming tournament, but Tai Upoko passed away suddenly. Understandably Caroline resigned and the recruited players disbanded.
However, Basketball Cook Islands continued to keep the momentum of the campaign by appointing locally-based head coach Williams, who faced more challenges in ensuring all players met the Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA) eligibility criteria. This requested a genealogy showing at least three generations to prove their lineage to the Cook Islands.
Williams says they have waded through all the paperwork and have gathered all the necessary documents to prove player eligibility, and now it’s a waiting game for funding.
Basketball Cook Islands president Steve Lyons also remains optimistic of securing the funding to get the men’s team to Samoa.
He says that they have sought sponsors both regionally and locally, with little success.
However, he adds they are grateful the women’s national squad secured funding through the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC), and hopes that they can do the same for the men’s team.
He says he has also approached the Cook Islands government for funding support, but his attempts so far have not been fruitful.
At the recent National Sports Awards, Basketball Cook Islands received top honours, with the code’s women’s 3x3 basketball side taking out the sports team of the year award – a reflection of the sides international success in 2017.
The Basketball Polynesia Cup jumps into action on Monday 19 and will be contested by American Samoa, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands women’s team while men’s squad wait and hope for a funding miracle.