New Zealand women’s international Zoe Richards will call Western Australia home for the next six months after signing with the Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames for the inaugural NBL1 West season, which tips off on April 14.

Richards, a 23-year-old forward from Dunedin, debuted for the Tall Ferns against Japan in 2019 and despite being a fully fledged international player hopes playing in a higher-level domestic competition will help her further develop her game and take her career to another level after playing college ball in the United States.

She spent a year at Gillette College in Wyoming before transferring to Eckerd College in St Petersburg, Florida, competing at the NCAA Division II level and becoming a key member of the Tritons, being named to the SSC All-Newcomer Team in 2018, the SSC All-Tournament Team in 2019, and in her senior year the Tritons were crowned SSC Conference Champions.

Upon returning to New Zealand she has played with the Otago Gold Rush, but admits she always had her sights set on playing in Australia.

“I’ve wanted to play in Australia since finishing college, so my agent helped get my name out and put me in touch with some Australian teams,” Richards said.

“The Flames were one of the teams to get in touch and I was really excited about them. They have a lot of WNBL players and that was appealing because you develop your game learning from more experienced players.

“The club being successful recently was a factor, but also coach Tom Knowles seems really great from our conversations; he has a good idea of the player he sees me as and how I fit into the team, the role I’ll play and also the role he can play in my development. That was really important to me.

“Obviously there’s the WNBL in Australia and that’s where I’d like to be and I’m hopeful I can develop and use this opportunity as a stepping stone to play there.”

Richards will be the second player at the Flames who is a twin – along with Chris Boag, whose identical twin sister Carly plays for Mandurah Magic – and may not have taken up the game at all if not for her sibling.

“My sister Brittany and I were encouraged by our parents to play different sports to help us become our own person and not compete and be compared to one another all the time,” she said.

“It was Brittany who played basketball and I had to get permission from her to be able to play. She was being selected for representative teams and going away on trips and I got jealous because it looked fun, so I wanted to play too. Luckily she said it was okay and here we are.”

Describing herself as an “aggressive offensive player”, Richards said she plays the post position and was working on stretching out to the guard position, shoots the 3 ball well and possesses a good inside game, but was told she was “undersized” in college, despite standing at 189cm tall.

“I’ve got good footwork under the post and I’m good with my left and right hand at the basket, which I worked a lot on because I was told I was undersized in college even though they played me at the 5,” she said.

“I like to run up and down the court and love setting screens for my teammates, seeing the floor and making passes for them to score. Defensively I’d say I’m an aggressive rebounder.

““But I still have things I need to work on and playing for the Flames provides me a great opportunity to do that. I really want to develop my game and work my way up to a regular starter in the national team. I’ve been a regular in the squad since 2019 but I recognise it’s important to keep developing because then more opportunities will come my way.

“That’s why I’m really thankful to Tom and the Flames for giving me that opportunity in Australia, but also to Otago who have helped me get to this point in my career.”

Richards hopes to arrive in Australia later in March after fulfilling a family commitment, but that will also depend on WA and New Zealand setting up a ‘travel bubble’ after each recently dealt with Covid-related scares.

When she does arrive, Richards said she can’t wait to meet her new teammates and get stuck in.

“Right now I’m just so excited and really looking forward to getting on the court and playing with great players and getting lots of experience,” she said.