The Auckland secondary school Premier Boys Basketball competition starts early next term and runs through the winter months, leading up to the Championship final this year on 22 August.
Some of the best secondary sport in the country occurs on Friday nights around Auckland’s school basketball courts – such as when Westlake Boys’ High School plays keen rivals Rosmini College, who are the defending Auckland Premier and NZSS AA champions and who are currently in Crete contesting the Basketball World Schools Championship.
“That is a big game, with 500-1000 people watching. We will play one home and one away game against them, and then if we meet for a third time it will be in a quarter-final, semi-final or final, whatever that may be,” says Westlake’s Sam Mennenga.
Last year it was the quarter-final, and Rosmini won, consigning Westlake to an eventual fifth placed finish. Sam wasn’t playing that night, but he had good reason to be elsewhere. “I was away in Thailand with the Junior Tall Blacks at the time and once I got back the season was over,” Sam laments.
A fortnight ago the tables were turned. Sam helped Westlake win the NZSS 3 x 3 Senior Championships in Tauranga – beating Rosmini 18-14 in the final and winning all 11 games at the tournament.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. They are quite a small but aggressive team, so we used our height against them and we came out on top,” he enthuses.
Other members of the winning Westlake 3 x 3 team were fellow year 13s Dylan Wilkie and Campbell Atkinson and year 12 Josh Kooiman.
How does 3 x 3 basketball compare to playing full court five-a-side basketball? “It is more one-on-one and a quick-paced game. It is played on a half court, if you get the rebound you go outside the 3-point line and you come back in and go at the same hoop.”
Sam hopes that win can be a springboard to success in both Auckland and nationally, where Westlake haven’t won since 2015.
First there are some trips overseas with the Junior Tall Blacks – starting this week.
The team is playing an invitation pre-World Cup tournament in China. “We are playing some European national teams and the Chinese national team. It is a practice run before the World Champs in Greece.
At the World Champs starting at the end of June, the Junior Tall Blacks meet the best first up. “We have got the top dogs the USA in our pool - I am really excited to go at them and see what they have got.”
Following the USA, NZ plays Senegal and Lithuania in pool play.
Sam and the Junior Tall Blacks qualified for the World Championships at the aforementioned trip to Thailand last year. The team finished second at the Asia Championships and qualified for the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece this coming July.
In February, Sam, along with St Peter’s School’s Charlisse Leger-Walker, attended the prestigious Basketball Without Borders (BWB) Global Camp in North Carolina in the United States.
“It was a camp with the top 60 males and females our age from throughout the world. We trained for three days and we got put into a team and played against other, with NBA scouts and the big GMs, as well as some professional players.”
No Steve Adams though. “I was hoping he would be there, but I think it was a Nike thing and he is an Adidas athlete.”
Sam was grateful for the experience. “I was pretty nervous at the start, but once I got on the court I just played.”
The BWB camp serves as a stage to win college scholarships.
“I have got a couple of offers, but I am not going to choose my college until the end of this year,” says Sam.
Sam started playing basketball when he was 12. “I followed on from my older brother, who was playing. I played in the same team for Westlake with him together.”
He used to played rugby and football, but now the focus is on basketball.
Sam Mennenga attended the Steven Adams' basketball camps featured on Maori Television's new show Holding Court on Maori Television on Wednesday, April 17, 8.30pm.
St Peter’s, Cambridge won their second successive 3x3 national Girls title after beating Hamilton Girls 15 - 7. St Peter’s put on a defensive masterclass, snuffing out any opportunity Hamilton had to score. They would lead from the outset, with Dominique Stephens and Charlisse Leger-Walker scoring the majority of their points and negating all of Hamilton’s attempts to keep the game close.
Earlier in the day, Hamilton Boys took out the junior boys open grade after they toppled St Peter’s, Cambridge. Hamilton led by 5 with fewer than 2 minutes to go but a couple of quick scores brought the game close. However, the boys in red managed to grind out the win with one last score to finish 13-11.
Westlake Girls won the junior girls open grade when they beat Mount Maunganui College Parauri 16-9. Westlake was always in control of their final and kicked off the winning run for the North Shore schools. Westlake Boys would then make it two from two for Harbour when they defeated Te Kura Kokiri Tane in the senior boys open final. Kura put up a tough fight but couldn’t match Westlake’s shooting and would go down 19-13.
Westlake Girls made it three out of a possible four open grade final wins following their win over Tauranga Girls in the senior girls open final. Tauranga was leading the game right up until the last minute before a light shower inside the Trustpower arena saw Westlake make it rain and tie the game up with only seconds to spare. Westlake would then make them pay for letting it go the extra period, sinking another two to keep the North Shore’s unbeaten finals streak alive in a 12-10 win.
The junior girls elite final was played out between Westlake Girls and Tai Wananga, the lowest scoring final of the afternoon. The bulk of the game’s points came from beyond the arc as both teams found it difficult to have the ball fall through the hoop when coming within 10 feet of it. A handful of defensive stops for Westlake would be the difference in the end, as a Tai Wananga long range two would rattle off the rim and give Westlake an 11-9 victory.
Hastings boys beat St Thomas of Canterbury in a tight affair that had to be settled in overtime. The game was dominated by points inside the paint but come the last minute it was all long-range jump shots. St Thomas relied heavily on big man Hunter Adam who scored all but one of his team’s points. The back and forth bout saw Adam, who was at this point running on fumes, sink a 2 pointer with only 10 seconds left and send the game the extra distance. His efforts would cruelly prove to be not enough, as the first possession in overtime saw Hastings rattle home their own deuce and take the crown.
The senior boys elite grade was played out between Westlake and Rosmini, a contest which would give the rivals bragging rights up until Schick Champs (AA Nationals) later this year. The final would live up to the pregame hype, with both teams bringing their A-game and starting fast out of the blocks. Rosmini would lead during the early stages thanks to their two-point shooting, but Westlake would battle back from inside and keep Rosmini’s interior defence honest with a pair of And-1s. With the game in the balance and the championship on the line, Westlake would convert on a long-range jumper and then turn a Rosmini miss into a momentum-shifting dunk. They would then follow this up with a defensive stop, gifting Sam Mennenga a clear run to the hoop which he thankfully accepted and flushed home with a roof-raising two-handed jam. Rosmini was deflated at this point but to their credit pushed right through to the final buzzer and finished gracious runners-up in an 18-14 loss.
Thomas Kepa from Rotorua Boys took home the 3 point shootout after sinking 5 triples in 26 seconds.
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