By Bill Sheehan
Amiee Book's long-range jump shot this season has attracted attention from teammates and opponents alike.
The Cal State Fullerton freshman and New Zealand native ranks second in the Big West Conference in 3-point shooting percentage, converting at a 42.6% clip.
"There's always a debate about where she got the jump shot. My wife takes credit, and of course so do I," her father, Ed Book, said jokingly.
That's because Book's parents are former basketball players. Ed was a member of New Zealand's national team and represented the South Pacific country in the 2002 World Games and the 2004 Summer Olympics. Her mother, Lisa, played for the Kiwi junior national team.
Her younger brothers are following in their parents' footsteps too. Josh, 15, was recently selected to the under-16 national team. And 13-year-old brother Nick is playing basketball as well as rugby.
"Amiee spent a lot of time in the gym working on the shot, and it naturally progressed over time," said Ed, who coached Book during her childhood and teenage years. "I told her, 'If you want to be well rounded, you have to have the jump shot.' "
Book's play as the team's sixth man will be critical this week as the Titans (13-14 overall, 5-9 in conference) pursue a No. 6 seed in the upcoming Big West Women's Basketball Tournament. Fullerton closes out the regular season with a 7 p.m. game Thursday at Long Beach State followed by home game Saturday at 4 p.m. against UC Riverside.
"We're trying to put together a 40-minute game and concentrating on rebounding and taking care of the ball," said Book, a 6-foot forward who is averaging 10.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. "We still have a lot to work on. Hopefully, we can be peaking going into the tournament."
Giving the Titans a boost as the sixth man
Fullerton starter Carolyn Gill, a 5-foot-10 sophomore forward from Oakland, said Book gives the Titans a spark of energy with her shooting and play off the bench.
"She is a straight knock-down shooter, and it's a guaranteed assist if you can get it to her," said Gill, who added that Book's role as sixth man allows her to size up defenses and look for weaknesses before entering the game.
"Amiee tries very hard and wants to win. She is a great shooter from 3-point- to mid-range and has a nice touch on the ball. You don't want to lose her or it's in your face."
Jeff Harada, Fullerton's second-year head coach, said Book filled a void for the Titans.
"I'm not surprised by her success shooting threes – that's why we recruited her. She's a great shooter who stretches the defense. Her experience playing in international competition has helped her make the transition to Division 1," Harada said of Book, who played on under-16 and under-18 national teams that competed in the U.S. and Guam.
"Amiee has a great work ethic and a strong desire to be good. She'll be a good leader in the future for our younger kids," the coach said.
Harada noted that Book, who turned 19 on Sunday, needs to get stronger in the off-season. "Teams know that she is a 3-point shooter and are trying to run her off the line. She'll need to improve on attacking the basket and her ball-handling and defending."
Book agrees. "You can't just be one-dimensional. If you are just a good shooter, people are going to adjust. So, you have to counteract that. I just need to develop other aspects of my game like shooting the ball off the dribble," she said.
Feeling good vibrations at Fullerton
Being a teenager nearly 7,000 miles away from home can be daunting. But Book has adapted to life in Southern California, said freshman Janette Mensah, a teammate and one of her roommates.
"It's different for her, but she's enjoying it a lot. We work on our schoolwork and eat together. She is funny, and we joke around all the time about everything," said Mansah, a 6-3 center from Granada Hills.
Book, who is undeclared but is considering majoring in kinesiology with a concentration in physiotherapy, said she feels a strong connection with Cal State Fullerton. "Ever since I was recruited, I've had a strong bond with the school. The staff is awesome. I don't think I could have joined a better team. We get on really well and hang together outside the gym as well."
"I'm meeting cool people over here. And Orange County is a beautiful place."
Book's home country of New Zealand is also beautiful. The nation, with a population of nearly 4.8 million, is known for its stunning glaciers, fiords, mountains and beaches.
She was born in Palmerston North, a city on the North Island about 240 miles north of Auckland. Her family later moved to Nelson, on the northern tip of the South Island.
Her father came to New Zealand in 1994 to play in the professional National Basketball League. Previously, the New York native played four years at Canisius College, a Jesuit university in Buffalo, where he averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds as a senior. He also did tryouts with the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks.
A 7-foot forward-center with 3-point shooting skills, Ed played in the NBL for more than a dozen years, winning a championship for Nelson in his final season. After becoming a naturalized New Zealander, he led the Kiwis to a fourth-place finish at the 2002 World Championships and a silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Ed married Lisa Merritt, who was a point guard in the semi-professional Women's National Basketball League. The 5-foot-7 Lisa continued playing after motherhood and also won a title with Nelson.
A volleyball and netball competitor too
Book said her parents never pressured her to play hoops – she just liked the sport. She also played volleyball and netball, a passing-only game where teams score by tossing a ball through a net hanging from a rim atop a pole.
"My dad taught me everything I know about basketball," said Book. "He taught me a lot about hard work and what it takes to be successful, not only on the court but in the classroom. And I learned not to focus only on basketball but to become a well-rounded person as well."
She attended secondary school at Waimea College in Richmond, a suburb of Nelson. Book won a national championship in volleyball at Waimea, and Ed coached her basketball team. But as a senior, she moved to Christchurch, the South Island's largest city.
"I made the move to play against better competition. It was a good stepping stone, and being on my own helped me transition to life in the U.S." said Book, who played only basketball in Christchurch.
Book's dream was to land a basketball scholarship from an U.S. university. She created a personal highlights video and distributed it to selected colleges.
Titan coach Harada watched the video and some game film and liked what he saw. "We contacted Amiee to gauge her interest. She came with her family for a visit and was excited with the opportunity."
"Quite a few universities were interested in Amiee. She really believed in Jeff's vision for the program and his style of play," said Ed, who added that Orange County's climate also was a big selling point.
Credit Bill Sheehan
Kiwi players finding their way to U.S. schools
"Basketball's popularity in New Zealand has grown over the years," said Ed. "The emergence of (Oklahoma Thunder center) Steven Adams has really spiked interest. There are pathways for our players, and more of them have been going to U.S. colleges in the past seven to eight years."
Book enjoys spending time at the beach and hiking in New Zealand. Two of her favorite places are Kaiteriteri Beach and Abel Tasman National Park, both northwest of Nelson. But if she wants to see her family, she'll have to go to Christchurch.
The Book family relocated to Christchurch seven weeks ago. Ed is teaching special education classes at Allenvale School, and Lisa is a physical education instructor at Cashmere High School. Six-foot-four Josh, a shooting guard who envisions a Division 1 career, and 6-foot-2 Nick will be facing tougher basketball competition.
As for her future, Book's goal after graduation is to play basketball in Europe and also for the Kiwi national team. Eventually, she would like to find a career path that is sports-related. Like her father and her brothers, she has dual citizenship. "This provides me with a lot of opportunities. If I want to stay here, I can," she said.
Asked if Orange County's shoreline measures up to New Zealand's beaches, Book replied diplomatically, "The California beaches are quite nice too."