North Shore Schools have dominated high school basketball in recent seasons, winning six of the last eight national titles.
However a new contender from the City of Sails has emerged in 2017. Auckland Grammar School won the Auckland Minor Premiership last week and will tackle National champions Rangitoto College in the premier semi-finals on Friday night.
Grammar has only won a single National title in 1979, but has beaten Rangitoto twice in three previous meeting this year.
“There is a long way to go in the season, but our goal is to win the National title,” states key forward Thomas Higgins.
“Rangitoto is a tough team. They have the likes of Dan Fotou and Zack Te Puni who can really light it up, but if we play tough defence and get our game going we can beat them.” Higgins continued.
Grammar have won both Premiership matches against Rangitoto 82-71 and 79-59. Higgins top scored in the initial meeting with 20 points, while Sam Aruwa banked 18 points in the second encounter.
Traditional powerhouses Westlake BHS and Rosmini College clash in the other semi-final. Like Grammar those teams finished the regular season with an 11-3 record, but Grammar is top qualifier by virtue of holding a better head to head record against both those schools.
However Grammar nearly blew pole position on Friday night against fifth placed Mount Albert Grammar School. Auckland required extra time to extinguish MAGS stubborn challenge.
“We started really slow and I don’t know why. Maybe we were tired or thinking too far ahead. We showed good character to comeback and win,” Higgins explains.
Higgins forced overtime by hitting a late shot in regulation to tie the scores. In the additional period the lead changed hands three times, but Higgins 29 points was the telling difference in the 70-67 win.
Higgins is used to dealing with pressure. The New Zealand Under-18 representative has traveled to diverse locations like Australia and China with his code. Higgins transferred from Te Awamutu College (TA) this season after helping TA to their first Nationals in 2015 where they finished 16th. TA improved a further two places last year.
“I really enjoyed my time at TA, but I want to try and win a National championship and that wasn’t going to happen at TA. The first term at Grammar was a bit of a struggle because the culture of the schools’ are so different, but I am settled now and looking forward to the end of the year.” Higgins says.
Interestingly Higgins lives with close friend, teammate and fellow national age group rep Thomas Whyte.
Auckland Premier Basketball Standings
11-3 Auckland Grammar
6-8 Mt Albert
4-10 St Kentigern
Note: Westlake and Rosmini finished their regular season matches with a win apiece against Grammar, but Grammar enjoyed a greater points differential across both games. Westlake beat Grammar, 78-85, but then lost 79-52 in the return exchange. Grammar beat Rosmini 62-53 and only lost 56-61. Higgins top scored with 16 points in the win against Rosmini. The Auckland Championship has no bearing on Nationals with a Zonal qualifier to be held from September 6-9 The top six teams from that tourney advance to Palmerston North for the Nationals which run from October 2-7.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand