Youngest player in WNBL forced to juggle NCEA and basketball

The youngest player in the WNBL tournament is continuing to make a name for herself in basketball, even while juggling a tough  travel schedule alongside her level 1 NCEA exams.

At 15, Lilly Taulelei's already racked up an impressive list of basketball achievements.

She was handpicked for a junior NBA global championship last year and was crowned the MVP of her age group at nationals this year, leading to her debut in the WNBL this month.

Despite only playing for four years, she is now up against women more than twice her age in the top national league.

She says that her teammates treat her like an equal.

“Its just so much fun and the girls don’t treat me like I’m the baby they treat me like I’m just a part of the team and they help me out a lot," she said.

On top of a jam-packed sporting schedule, Taulelei has been forced to multitask.

The timing of this year's Covid-delayed tournament means her NCEA exams are smack bang in the middle of the season, with Taulelei flying back and forth between Auckland and Wellington to do both.

Although the workload would be enough to overwhelm most 15-year-olds, Taulelei seems to have already found a way to make it work.

“I’m able to figure out what slots I have between shoot arounds and rest and put in maybe an hour of study then nap, wake up, do another hour then go to the game, and that’s not too hard,” she said.

It's a juggling act Taulelei intends to have for some time, aiming to study and play in the US as she pursues a place in the WNBA and her capital coach Deslee Wrathall believes she has what it takes.

“Within five years I think she'll be a force to be reckoned with both within New Zealand and international basketball,” Wrathall said.