New Zealand team has significant Pac-10 flavor

Aug. 12, 2008, 3:23 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Stanford senior Jillian Harmon never thought that she would be competing in the Olympics, let alone with New Zealand.

Now she is one of four current or former Pac-10 players on the Kiwis roster, joining former Cardinal Clare Bodensteiner, Oregon junior guard Micaela Cocks, and former Washington center Jess McCormack, who transferred to UConn this past year.

"We may have been rivals in college but we've become good friends," said Harmon, who helped Stanford reach the national championship game this past season before losing to Tennessee.

New Zealand coach Mike McHugh helped Cocks get her scholarship at Oregon. An assistant for the university was recruiting in Australia and McHugh told him about the 5-foot-8 guard.

"I guess New Zealand has become the Pac-10 of the East," said McHugh with a smile.

It was blind luck that McHugh is coaching Bodensteiner and Harmon.

The 23-year old Bodensteiner was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and lived there with her family for four years. Her parents went to New Zealand on their honeymoon and wound up staying for more than a decade after learning they could get a master's degree in education in a program paid for by the government.

The Stanford reserve, who graduated in 2007, knew her best chance of playing professionally was in New Zealand. As a native, she would not have to compete for one of the two roster spots for foreign players that teams are allowed to sign. One day while checking the internet she ran across the Tall Ferns site, not knowing it was the national team. She sent an e-mail to the site and within a few days, McHugh sent her a reply inviting her to attend a team tryout in New Zealand.

"Never had this plan, never thought it was possible or dreamed of it until this year," said Bodensteiner, adding that she started the process in February.

Harmon heard from a Stanford teammate about Bodensteiner's odyssey and knew that her own mother was born in New Zealand. A quick phone call later to her mom and Harmon found out that she also has New Zealand citizenship papers and could play.

"It's funny to think that I have this chance," said Harmon, who joined the Kiwis three days after the national championship game.

Harmon expects her former Stanford teammate Candice Wiggins to also experience the Olympics.

"There is no doubt that Candice is one of the best players in the world, but the U.S. team is so stacked," Harmon said. "She'll be here in four years."

McCormack may be back in four years too. She is one of the youngest members of the New Zealand team at 18 and has been soaking up the entire Olympic experience.

"It's amazing," she said. "Back home you don't get crowds like this."

McCormack should get used to playing in front of packed venues as she transferred to UConn. She'll have to sit out a year because of NCAA rules.

For now, she and her New Zealand teammates are trying to reach the Olympic quarterfinals.