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US college scholarship in the offing

A rising basketball star whose family is from Gisborne is on her way to play in America on a full scholarship.

Arielle Williams-Mackey is finishing her last year of high school in Hamilton and has a host of “excellent offers” from NCAA Divison 1 colleges.

She plans to commit to one soon and is looking forward to the adventure.

It's an exciting opportunity to continue building her career in basketball and to play in front of scouts from the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association in the US)and European leagues, she says.

“That's a goal for me, to get into the WNBA or to play professionally in Europe.”

She was selected to play in a showcase game for the NBA Women's Academy Next Generation this year but it was cancelled as a result of Covid-19.

Arielle calls Gisborne her spiritual home. She says she's very proud of her heritage and where she comes from.

“My papa, John Mackey, always told me stories of our tipuna in the Maori Battalion . . . we are proud people with mana.”

“My whanau and iwi are what inspire me to compete.”

The family moved to the Gold Coast, Queensland, when Arielle was three and then relocated further north to Gladstone for work.

Arielle's selection for a high-performance basketball programme when she was 13 prompted a move back to the Gold Coast to support her sporting ambition.

She says she's “very grateful” for everything her family has done to help her succeed.

“They're always sacrificing for me to make sure I have the best opportunities,” she said. “I'm forever in their debt.”

At 15, Arielle was selected in the under-18 New Zealand 3x3 team to play in the Asia Cup. She was named joint MVP (most valuable player) of the tournament.

Last year, at 17, she moved to Melbourne by herself.

“I was with the best players in my age group (in Oceania) and at the end of last year I was in the WNBL Boomers Academy.”

The Women's National Basketball League is the pre-eminent professional women's basketball league in Australia.

The move was about more than just basketball. She wanted to mature and become more independent in preparation for her move to America to play.

The shooting guard comes from a strong sporting pedigree. Her aunt was a captain of the Black Ferns and her uncle, Victor Simpson, was an All Black.

“Both sides of my whanau have represented New Zealand, Poverty Bay, and the East Coast at different levels in rugby, softball and basketball,” she said.

In December she will return to the East Cape to help with development camps run by her uncle and give back to the region.

She's travelling as a coach to support her Ngati Porou rohe and is holding clinics from Hicks Bay to Kaiti.

She wants to inspire young local athletes and show them the opportunities they have.

“We want to encourage young athletes to work hard at school and look at pathways to the USA NCAA college scholarships, to set goals and dream big.”

Her school has been supportive of her. She tries to do her work before going away so she doesn't get behind and can focus on her basketball.

“They're really flexible,” she said.

“I can come to school for my specific classes and they allow me to go to tournaments and practices.”

This week she's been involved in a camp for the wider Tall Ferns squad as they start preparing for the 2022 World Cup after the Covid-19 pandemic.

She is the youngest member of the squad and the only player who is still in high school.

They will be playing a showcase game as a curtain-raiser for the NBL final on Saturday. Coverage starts at 5 pm on Skysport 9.

FUTURE BECKONS: Arielle Williams-Mackey is in her last year of high school and has a host of 'excellent offers' from NCAA Division 1 colleges. Picture supplied