SINGAPORE (Singapore) - The FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup 2023 is approaching quickly and each of the participating national teams are set and ready for action. One of the teams that are determined to make a mark in the tournament that will be held in Singapore from 29 March to 2 April is New Zealand, especially the women’s team.
"Every time you put on the black singlet and play for New Zealand, it’s a real honor regardless of the stage, level of competition, or location."
The Tall Ferns have consistently been one of the top contenders in the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup, having won the competition altogether in 2018. However, the draw in the past two editions, in 2019 and 2022, of the competition has been tough on New Zealand. In both of the previous editions of the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup, the Tall Ferns have failed to make a return to the Semi-Finals both times. They are hoping that the streak ends this year in Singapore and they will have a very decorated rising star in their lineup to help make that happen in Krystal Leger-Walker.
The 25-year-old has long been a part of the Tall Ferns program, donning the "black singlet" as early as the U16 Oceania championship back in 2013. From there, she also played at the U18 level before making a senior national team debut at the Women’s Asia Cup in 2021.
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Even though she’s gone on to experience much success playing in the NCAA Division 1 as well with Northern Colorado and Washington State, where her 139 starting appearances rank the most for any Kiwi in both men’s and women’s competition, she will always cherish the opportunities she gets to play for the national team on any platform.
"Every time you put on the black singlet and play for New Zealand, it’s a real honor regardless of the stage, level of competition, or location," said Leger-Walker.
As stated, Leger-Walker has had plenty of experience playing on both the traditional 5x5 competition as well as the 3x3 courts. She recognizes the differences but views it as a welcome challenge both for herself and for the team to overcome.
"It’s definitely a whole different game. I played 3x3 for NZ at the U18 level, before I went to college in the US, so this is the first time post-College that I’ll be playing 3x3," she expressed.
"I’m excited to see how it goes, how our team goes, how us girls can mesh together as a team. I know we have an experienced team [for 3x3 Asia Cup] so I’m excited to get stuck in - being a small guard and playing fast means that 3x3 suits my style of play."
With the nature of the 3x3 scene, everything can come and go in a blur once the games commence in Singapore and that’s something that Leger-Walker sees as something that Leger-Walker can utilize as an advantage.
"[The 3x3 Asia Cup is] shorter and faster, it’s kind of like the Sevens version of Rugby in that way; us being a smaller country like we are, it gives us a better chance to shock some teams that we face."
There is a specific team that Leger-Walker is hoping to shock in particular and it’s not surprising considering the history between the two nations.
"I’m particularly looking forward to facing Australia as obviously we have a big rivalry with them and beating a team of that quality would be massive for New Zealand. We’re not going to back down from any teams, and I love that we’ll be able to shock a few countries by playing small and fast – we just need to bring our best game to have a chance to win."
Those that know Leger-Walker and her background will most likely not be surprised if she succeeds with the Tall Ferns in the Singapore showdown. After all, playing basketball at a high-level is in her blood.
Krystal comes from a well-known basketball family. Her mother Leanne Walker is an experienced Tall Fern and is a two-time Olympian. Her sister, Charlisse, is the current starting point guard for the national team.
Her youngest sister, 16-year-old Tannika, has also played for New Zealand at the age-group level.
"I think having all of them involved in the game has made us all competitive," said Krystal of how being from a basketball family has helped her succeed. "Competing against and training with them all the time. Being the eldest sister, I tend to play that way and lead that way - I tend to be outspoken and I lead my example on the court."
Aside from her mother and sisters, Leger-Walker also found inspiration in her late grandmother.
"I lost my grandmother earlier this year and so every game I play in this year will be dedicated to her and her memory," she revealed.
"My grandmother was a massive influence on me and both my sisters; she was like our second mum and last year she made the trip over to the States to watch Charlisse and I play in the college basketball scene which was really cool and special and is a memory we’ll hold dear to us."
"She was very sporty and active herself, right up until she passed. She was outside with us and she’d play games with us and would run around with us whenever she had the chance. So she’s had a massive impact on our lives and we’d like to think that we’ve gotten our sporty side from her."
Krystal Leger-Walker is armed with high-level experience. She is driven by many factors, whether it is the expected pride of playing the flag or the inspiration from her beloved grandmother. All things considered, she is expected to be a player to watch for the Tall Ferns in Singapore and they hope the fans will be able to watch her in action all the way to the very last day in the competition and, for Tall Ferns fans, ideally lifting the trophy at the end of the day.