“We got into New York and a few of the boys had shorts and jandals on. It was -14 degrees,” Kalib Mullins laughs when reflecting on the initial culture shock experienced by the Rotorua Boys’ High School basketball team on their recent US tour.
For a fortnight 22 students, including the senior A team, traveled through New York, Boston and Philadelphia playing basketball and absorbing as much of the local culture as possible.
The Rotorua players were split into two teams. Each team won three out of five games against American high schools. The style of play and the environments in which the fixtures were contested were vastly different from home.
“The first game we played was against the Gators in New York. We were interrogated by security and put in the tenth gym at the school,” Mullins recalls.
“The facilities were amazing, the crowds got stuck in, but the style of play was quite individual and fast. In New Zealand we tend to share the ball more. In the US each school has one or two star players.”
Rotorua’s top team won that first game by a point and generally surprised Americans with their talent, tenacity and of course the haka.
“I think the haka freaked them out a bit,” Mullins chuckled.
“They were surprised at how big and physical we were. We were determined to compete and try and win every game.”
Rotorua Boys' basketball director Theo Tait confirmed this sentiment in the Rotorua Daily Post.
“A lot of the kids at the schools we played had never heard of New Zealand before and if they did, it was all about rugby. I think overall, we woke them up a bit on the basketball side, we have some really talented boys.”
Mullins himself is a 6 ft 6 power forward in Year 13. He enjoys bustling inside the key, but has developed a longer range shooting game. His ambitions for Rotorua are high. The US trip is not intended to be a ‘rest on our laurels’ junket.
“We’ve got a real good brotherhood and great coaches. Our goal is to keep working hard and try and win the National championship,” Mullins warns.
Rotorua were 16th at Nationals last year but in 2015 finished fourth, narrowly losing the semi-final to eventual champions Rangitoto College. Rotorua’s present coach Mark Elers was involved with that 2015 campaign with his son Logan Elers earning a scholarship to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
Rotorua saw plenty of top class talent in the US attending the following NBA games:
Philadelphia 76ers v San Antonio Spurs
New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets
“Going to the NBA was amazing. In Philadelphia they put us in a corporate box which was like, ‘no way,’" Elers said.
“The level of competitiveness is something to really aspire to. I think that was the biggest lesson I learned.”
Learning the history of the sport was also an invaluable lesson. In Massachusetts the boys visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame while in Manhattan they stepped on to the floor of the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.
“That was huge. Madison Square Garden has so much history and it’s not just sport, it’s music and everything else.” Elers marveled.
Rotorua performed a haka to honour Kiwi Ross McMains who is part of the Knicks coaching team there.
Each boy had to pay $6500 to make the trip. A year of fundraising occurred, but Mullins reached his target quickly.
“My father used some his rugby connections to help auction off an autographed Maori All Blacks centenary jersey. We got seven and a half grand for that,” Mullins explains.
“I saved half for myself and put the rest in a team fund.”
Kalib’s father Mike Mullins played 116 games for Munster and 16 tests for Ireland.
Two young Kiwi talents have been selected for the prestigious Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global Camp in the United States. It will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, 15-17 February.
Tall Fern and 2019 St Peter's School head girl Charlisse Leger-Walker has become the first-ever female from New Zealand to be selected, while Junior Tall Black and Westlake Boys’ High School student Sam Mennenga has also been called up.
Run in partnership by the NBA and FIBA, there have been 56 BWB camps in 35 cities in 28 countries on six continents since 2001. Of the BWB alumni, 53 have been drafted into the NBA. The most recent NBA Draft in 2018 saw two former BWB Global participants selected in the top 11 picks.
FIBA and the NBA have announced the top 63 boys and girls from 31 countries and regions who will attend.
This is the fifth BWB Global Camp, where players are selected ‘based on their outstanding basketball skills and leadership abilities’. While a small selection of Kiwis are often invited to attend the BWB Asia Camp each year, through a Basketball New Zealand and FIBA talent identification process, the BWB Global Camp is an even tougher club to be in.
The Global is offered to invite-only attendees who are considered the best in their age-group from around the world. It includes being hosted and trained by NBA and WNBA stars, and coincides with the chance to attend the NBA All Star game and to meet the stars.
Leger-Walker, who played a big role in helping the Tall Ferns secure a Bronze Medal at the 2019 Commonwealth Games this year, says this invitation is a great privilege and one she’s looking forward to.
“I expect to be challenged by coaches who have experience at a high level and maybe even on an international stage. This opportunity is very exciting because it will allow me to learn and grow as a player, and it will also enable me to identify what I will need to work on to add to my skill set. Plus it is also around the NBA All Stars game, so I might get to watch some of that!”
Sam Mennenga was selected to be a part of the Junior Tall Blacks in the 2018 Asia championships in Thailand where the team placed second and qualified for the FIBA World Championships, which will be held in Greece July 2019. The 17 year old says this camp is a big deal due to the opportunity to play against the best high school players in the world.
“I am excited about the Camp because I will be able to meet some NBA players and attend the NBA All-Star Game. I am also excited to learn from the coaches to help improve my game and get me to the next level.
“My goal in Basketball is to eventually make it to the NBA. To complete this goal I hope to go to America next year on a scholarship and play college basketball,” says Mennenga.
Leger-Walker says she’s looking forward to making new connections and friends from all over the world whilst learning more about the game. The youngest-ever Tall Ferns says she’s enjoyed a summer holiday from St. Peters Cambridge School and has taken a small break from the court. As part of that holiday, she and her family went to Colorado to visit older sister Krystal (also a Tall Fern).
“In terms of training I haven’t been playing much basketball, just doing my own trainings to stay in shape and fit. Occasionally I will get into a gym and get shots up and get in a good workout. When I was in the US, I would train with my older sister as they (the University of Northern Colorado) are in season at the moment. However, these next few weeks I will be getting back into basketball a bit more so I can start training for the camp and also 3x3 for school that is coming up soon,” says Leger-Walker.
2019 NBA All-Stars Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets; Serbia) and Nikola Vučević (Orlando Magic; Montenegro), 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick and former BWB camper Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns; Bahamas; BWB Global 2016), and 2017-18 All Rookie Second Team member Bogdan Bogdanović (Sacramento Kings; Serbia) will coach the top high school age campers from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. They will be joined by a number of former NBA veterans and US College coaches.
All participants will take part in basketball positional development, strength and conditioning, life skills sessions, and games and competitions during the day, followed by visits to NBA All Star events in the evening. NBA and FIBA players and coaches will coach the participants of the camp. NIKE is the presenting partner for the camp, and each camper will be provided with NIKE basketball shoes, uniforms, and other apparel. Participants’ flights, ground transportation, food, lodging and insurance during the camp will also be provided.
Basketball is now the second most-participated secondary-school sport after a massive 44.9% increase in players this decade.
Over a quarter more secondary school students are playing basketball than they were just five years ago, while volleyball has also seen a five percent increase in playing numbers in the same time period to be the fifth most popular sport.
Netball is New Zealand’s most popular sport by playing numbers despite a 7 percent shift away from playing numbers in the past five years.
More teenagers are playing netball and basketball than rugby, which has seen a 12 percent decline in playing numbers in this time.
The School Sport New Zealand Census shows a total of 26,481 secondary school students played for a basketball team at school in 2018.
The annual School Sport New Zealand Census just released, which details annual secondary-school participation rates since 2000.
The full Census can be found on the New Zealand Secondary School website here http://www.nzsssc.org.nz/newsarticle/72852?newsfeedId=51035
Hockey (+4 percent) and badminton (+9 percent) were also growth sports between 2014-18.
See below for the top 10 table of sports by participation in New Zealand.
Basketball New Zealand Chief Executive Iain Potter says two of the big reasons for this growth include an increasingly diverse national-population and the creation of opportunities to play, but he says the growth is less than what it could be.
“This growth is not a surprise for us. We’ve seen the growth of this participation-trend since the Census began.
“There’s been some great work by the basketball community to foster the opportunities for kids to play, but we could have achieved so much more if the support from central government, the Ministry of Education, local councils and funders corresponded with this vast growth. Basketball-participation has almost doubled in just ten years, whereas basketball’s funding certainly hasn’t,” said Potter.
Potter says the rise in participation correlates with the access to facilities, coaching, and the introduction of basketball opportunities at schools and communities, but he says that good work is not enough to give Kiwi kids the opportunities they are crying out for.
“To play, kids need opportunities with a ball, coach and a court. This relentless growth has seen basketball facilities become prime real-estate, with court bookings bursting. And the majority of our Associations are at their wits-end trying to get enough support to provide coaches, referees, and venues for their players and leagues.”
Potter said New Zealand is a different country than it was in the year 2010 and that the change in demographics also impacts basketball participation.
“Another big reason is the increase in this country’s ethnic diversity. Basketball is a global game that is the preferred sport for many people across many different ethnicities. As the populations of those ethnicities grow in New Zealand, so does basketball participation. We are fortunate to see young players of all backgrounds stepping onto our courts. Basketball in New Zealand caters for kiwis of all races, creeds and both genders,” says Potter.
The Census includes all students that had a meaningful engagement in each sport in the school setting. For example: represented the school in that sport OR took part in a sport provided in-school over a period of six weeks or more OR played for a club arranged by the school as the school had no teams in that sport OR took part in sport that was provided through the KIWISPORT initiative. The Census does NOT include students that took part in 'one off' in-school events such as school athletics / swimming sports or short term interform/house events.
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