Sports

New Zealand basketball has its very own LeBron James

The national secondary school basketball champs have been newly crowned, but more importantly, a star was brought to the fore. Madeleine Chapman introduces New Zealand basketball’s newest superstar.

Charlisse Leger-Walker, a year 11 student at St Peters College in Cambridge, is the best school-aged basketball player New Zealand has ever seen.

The Grand Final of the Schick Secondary Schools basketball champs was held on Saturday between St Mary’s College, Wellington and St Peter’s College, Cambridge. They had been picked to meet in the final from before the tournament even began and, as predicted, it was a Warriors vs Cavs situation. St Mary’s, a team stacked with some of the best young players in the country and a deep bench, were the Golden State Warriors. St Peter’s College, with a few good players, a non-existent bench, and the best player in the country, were the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Spoiler alert: the St Mary’s Warriors won what turned out to be an absolute thriller of a final. But the star of the game, and the whole tournament, was Charlisse “LeBrona James” Leger-Walker. At 15, she still has two years to go in secondary school basketball, but she’s already the best player in the country by a long shot, a long shot she’d probably sink.

Textbook shot technique (it went in)

Any athlete who’s played a team sport knows that even a superstar player can’t do everything. Put it this way, Steven Adams never won a top-grade championship with his school team. And yet, Leger-Walker nearly did just that. She almost managed to carry a team, singlehandedly, to a national title. It’s also rare to find a player who can score so easily, even after opposing teams have adjusted their defence to double and triple team them. But Leger-Walker does that too. And no, she’s not very tall (but imagine if she was) and she’s not super fancy. She’s just really bloody good. (Number 5 in white in the highlights below).

 

She’s got the stats

Over the eight games played during last week’s tournament, Leger-Walker averaged 35.75 points per game. In a fairly close quarter final win over Westlake Girls, she scored 42 points and got over 20 rebounds. The rest of her team scored 23 points.

She’s consistent…

..ly the best player. Opting out of playing in the U17 rep tournament earlier this year, Leger-Walker instead played for both the U19 and U23 Waikato teams in their respective tournaments. Both teams won national titles. Both times Leger-Walker was named tournament MVP. She was also named tournament MVP on Saturday despite tradition calling for the MVP to come from the winning team. Pretty sure this series of events has never happened before. Pretty sure it won’t happen again.

She performs no matter what

Surprise surprise the shot went in

There’s nothing worse than a really good player who only plays well in easy games. In other words there’s nothing worse than a choker. Leger-Walker is no choker. After leading in almost every stat margin the whole tournament, she scored 48 of her team’s 62 points in the grand final. Ironically she didn’t get a triple double because her teammates only scored 14 points – so even if she assisted every one of their baskets, that would still be less than 10 assists. By the end of the first quarter, she’d scored 16 points. St Peter’s had a team total of 16 points. SHE SCORED ALL THEIR POINTS THE ENTIRE FIRST QUARTER OF A GRAND FINAL.

She’s not a hungus

With such crazy stats from one player, you’d think St Peters would’ve had some blowout wins early in the tournament last week, but they didn’t. Because Leger-Walker performs as much as is needed and never more. There’s a fine line between knowing you’re the player who can make the shot, and never letting anyone else take a shot. Leger-Walker walks (yesss) this line well. Watching St Peter’s play wasn’t like watching a 1 on 5 game of basketball, it was almost surprising to see just how effective she was by the end of the game. Classic LeBron move.

And yet she’s clutch

Just watch the clip below of the final moments in the U19 Grand Final to see varying levels of clutch and a heart-stopping final minute of play.

On Saturday her team were down nine points with less than three minutes to play. Everyone, including myself, figured the game was pretty much wrapped up. But then along came Leger-Walker with a bucket, a steal, another bucket, a rebound, and then a three, to bring them back to within two points. It was a little bit ridiculous.

You can spit out the classic “oh they’re just kids” or “they’re girls” or even “wait until she plays adults” but here’s the thing – she has. She’s in the Tall Ferns camp alongside her older sister Krystal, though has yet to play for them. Perhaps there’s a wariness regarding her age and therefore maturity. Whatever the reason, she’ll be a staple soon enough. And having been part of the same tournaments she’s in now, I can say with utmost confidence that she’s the best young player New Zealand’s produced in a long time.


Watch the full grand final between St Mary’s and St Peter’s (it’s worth it) here.

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