Corey Le’aupepe suffered the bitter taste of defeat in last season’s Pohlen Cup final when Newlands College was toppled by Onslow College in the Wellington basketball decider. In his pursuit for an elusive title he switched to St. Pats Town, a perennial contender.
Why did Le’aupepe leave Newlands where he had scored 398 points in two Pohlen Cup seasons, ranking him a top five scorer in Wellington in 2014 and 2015?
“Convenience and prospects I guess. A lot of my trainings were at the ASB centre which is a long way from Newlands. The structures at Town are better. Things are a lot more organised. It’s been a big step up for me,” Le’aupepe responds.
The centre insists he enjoyed his time at Newlands.
“Newlands was awesome. There were so many highlights. In last year’s semi-final we beat Hutt Valley High School which was an upset and even though we lost the final we gave it our all and the atmosphere was unbelievable,” Le’aupepe recalls.
Unfortunately Newlands didn’t reach the top eight in Wellington in 2016, but Le’aupepe will contest another semi-final in a few weeks time. Firstly St. Pats Town tackles Wellington College on Friday night in the first of three seeding games to determine the final order of the top four for those semi-finals.
Town and Wellington have played each other three times this season and Wellington enjoys a 2-1 advantage. Wellington won the first two encounters, including a stunning 81-57 victory in the final grading round. Town rebounded hard and won their Pohlen Cup round-robin match on June 17, 78-64. Le’aupepe scored 25 points for Town. Wellington’s prolific scoring guard Sione Helu was held to 21 points.
“They beat us by one point in the traditional and then we beat them comfortably in the Pohlen Cup. They are a good side, well-coached with good structures. It will be a tough game, but if we can keep their best guys quiet we can win,” Le’aupepe says.
Le’aupepe believes Scots College are perhaps the biggest threat for the Wellington title and identifies Palmerston North BHS and Hastings BHS as the strongest teams in the Central region.
Le’aupepe is a Wellington Under-19 representative and Tall Blacks U19 trialist with aspirations for a US college scholarship in 2017.
In addition to basketball Le’aupepe is a McEvedy shield standard high jumper and has played volleyball and softball for Johnsonville.
Westlake Boys’ High School is a big time basketball school. Five times since 2005 they have been crowned National champions and in the last two years they have been runners up. Nobody is literally bigger in the 2016 Westlake team than 6ft8 centre James Moors.
The Year 12 has just returned from the National Under-17 championships where he was named MVP of the tournament for the rampant North Harbour A team.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have worked hard all season and win the championship. There are many players on the team who could have won the award like Peter Jenkins, Kruz Perrott-Hunt and Harry Clark. I feel very lucky,” Moors says.
North Harbour won all their matches easily and Moors scoring and rebounding (not recorded) was consistently good as the numbers below reveal.
“I was really nervous about the Canterbury game. We got some video off them and they had some sharp shooters. Fortunately we locked them down early and got some of our own shots to drop in the key,” he says.
In pool play Moors identified Waikato as the toughest team because of their “physicality.” He believes North Harbour’s superior experience and work ethic was essential to achieving such one-sided victories.
“We had a 12-man bench and the boys have been together for a long time now. It was a really fun environment to play in because everybody did their job and got on,” Moors enthuses.
In term three the quest for a National title resumes. Westlake and Rangitoto are first equal in the Auckland competition with a 9-2 record. Rangitoto and Westlake have played twice sharing a victory each. Rosmini College have beaten both schools. Which side is toughest?
“I think Rangitoto. They have guys like Sam Waardenburg and Dan Fotu who are some of the best players in New Zealand,” Moors answers.
Jacobs is confident Westlake has the goods to go all the way.
“We know what it’s like to lose a final and that drives us every day at practice. The boys who played Nationals in our team all played really we. We are feeling good about the term ahead,” Moors concludes.
Evidently Moors sister (a shooting guard) featured in the Under-15 Nationals in Wellington. Jessica was named in the tournament team as North Harbour captured that title as well. In the final they avenged their 2015 defeat to Waikato 76-73. Moors had an outstanding all around game with 22 points, 16 boards and six assists.
Host team Wellington Boys and Harbour A Girls have won the 2016 Under-15 National Championship Tournament after two nail-biting finals took place at ASB Sports Hall.
In a rematch of last year’s Under-15 Girls National Championship Tournament, Harbour A avenged their 2015 loss, beatingWaikato 76-73 to win the national title in the first final of the day.
Two monster individual performances from Girls MVP of the tournament Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu and Jessica Moors influenced Harbour’s winning performances, with Kailahi-Fulu recording 29 points, 25 rebounds and three blocks and Moors rounding out the game with 22 points, 16 boards and six assists.
It was a bumpy start for Harbour as foul trouble for the Kailahi-Fulu sisters, Zaaliyah and Jazzmyne, led to the duo sitting for a large chunk of the first quarter, which had been a theme of the tournament for Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu.
“I was in foul trouble in most of our games for the past day or two and I was just really mad at myself, knowing that I can do better with my fouls,” said Kaihali-Fulu.
Despite missing their two starters, Harbour were able to keep Waikato within touching-distance, trailing 15-11 after 10 minutes thanks to captain Emilia Shearer’s dogged play.
When Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu returned to the game in the second quarter, she did so with a vengeance, recording a double-double after just 11 minutes on the floor but Waikato refused to give up the lead.
Centre Dominique Stephens hauled in 11 boards and Waikato skipper Quaye Walker-Eketone contributed 12 first-halt points to hand Waikato a 29-26 lead at half time.
Three minutes into the second half Harbour regained the lead and, behind influential quarters from forward Jessica Moors and JazzmyneKailahi-Fulu, dominated the period with a 29-16 score to be up 45-55 after three quarters.
Waikato sparked a comeback to start the final period, getting within two points of Harbour even after Walker-Eketone was fouled-out just three minutes into the fourth quarter.
Stephens, who finished the match with 12 points and 16 rebounds, worked hard for Waikato as they dug their way back into the match – an effort which was helped when Harbour captain Emilia Shearer picked up her fifth foul.
Waikato made five successive free-throws to bring the game back within one point, though, as she had done all afternoon, Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu steadied Harbour’s ship, grabbing an offensive rebound and hitting the put-back basket as the clock wound down to full time, seeing Harbour leave Wellington as national champions which was overwhelming for rookie head coach Millie Nathan.
“It’s crazy. This is my first time head-coaching. [I was head coach because] the other head coach – I was assistant but she got pregnant so she couldn’t come. But it’s crazy, these girls are amazing. I’m so happy,” recalled Nathan.
On the Boys side of the tournament, host city Wellington defeated Harbour A 95-83 to win the Under-15 Boys National Championship Tournament.
Finishing second in their pool after losing to Otago and coming tenth in last year’s under-15 nationals, Wellington wouldn’t have been many people’s picks to win it all but, as they had done all tournament, they came out as unlikely victors.
It was a slow start for Wellington as big man UmuumuKaufusi picked up two quick fouls, seeing Harbour coast to an 18-5 lead through Cian Emery’s eight first-quarter points.
Off the bench Jared Hunter was able to drain a pair of triples, including one on the buzzer, to reduce Harbour’s lead to four after the first 10 minutes of play, which Wellington guard and tournament MVP saw as vital to the team’s win.
“They (the bench) were our success. They kept on hyping us throughout the game when we were down, doing chants for us… which made us play together… This win was for them… I’m proud to be their teammates,” said Vaigafa.
As was the case in the first in the first quarter, Harbour again had the better start as the second period got underway, restoring a healthy 11-point advantage as Logan Gibb warmed into the game.
Harbour’s lead would remain in double-digits as the two sides headed into the half time break with Harbour up 43-33 behind captain Dominic Chen’s 11 points and Wellington’s 16 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Wellington, though, tidied up their ball-handling and got back into the game, taking the lead six minutes into the third quarter after Boys MVP Ezra Vaigafa kicked into gear, getting to the charity stripe with ease.
Harbour fought back as the third quarter came to a close, heading into the final quarter up 56-53 as their bench provided valuable minutes.
A real see-saw of a quarter ensued with both sides making tough shots and getting to the free-throw line.
Wellington would break the back-and-forth trend with consecutive three-pointers to EmmersonKavakura and Vaigafa to jump to a 76-70 lead with 4:30 to play as the Wellington crowd began to get behind their team.
Spurred on by the fans’ noise most was the amazing Vagafa. A hound on defence and merciless on attack, Vaigafa was the go-to guy as Wellington built a seven-point lead with 1:30 to play, though Kaufusi had the fan’s favourite moment as the big man corralled a missed shot, dribbled down the court and finished the coast-to-coast play which sealed the win.
Vaigafa’s 38 points, nine rebounds and six assists, including 15/20 from the free-throw line, carried Wellington to the end in a true MVP performance, though the personal award meant nothing to the guard after winning the championship.
“MVP feels good but I was just happy to win. I haven’t won a championship for Wellington and the fact that it’s in our home town – it’s a good feeling,” said Vaigafa.
Also important to the win was EmmersonKavakura who displayed great dribbling skills on his way to 16 points and four rebounds, while Chen was Harbour’s best with 20 points and eight boards.
Speaking after the win, Wellington coach Jayden Smith was delighted with how his team came together despite being underdogs throughout the tournament.
“They just dug deep. They never gave up. There was always that attitude to compete and believe that we can go far. There was no hype around us, no-one thought we were going to go this far, but hey, here we are, top of the pedestal,” said Smith.
Girls tournament team:
Quaye Walker-Eketone- Waikato
JazzmyneKailahi-Fulu – Harbour A
Dominique Stephens - Waikato
Ashleigh Kells- Palmerston North
Ashlee Strawbridge - Canterbury Country
YzabelleTevao– Waitakere West Prems
Sila Morris - Canterbury
Caitlin O’Connell - Taranaki
Emily Shearer – Harbour A
Jessica Moors – Harbour A
JazzmyneKailahi-Fulu – Harbour A (MVP)
Boys tournament team:
Logan Gibb – Harbour A
Dominic Chen – Harbour A
Cian Emery – Harbour A
EmmersonKavakura - Wellington
Harrison Payne – Waitakere West Prems
OkiranoTilaia - Canterbury
KopereTanoa – Palmerston North
Mac Stodart - Otago
CalebManaakitangaSmiler - Waikato
Ezra Vaigafa – Wellington (MVP)
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Day three of the 2016 Under-15 National Championships involved eight hectic quarter-finals and a further four semi-finals as Saturday’s finalists were confirmed.
Both the Harbour A Girls team and the Harbour A Boys team will be competing for Under-15 National Championships glory tomorrow after they took care of their semi-final opponents in Friday’s action.
The first of the two to progress to the final was Harbour A Girls following their 95-83 win over Canterbury. Canterbury looked to be back in the game early in the fourth quarter after trailing for much of the game but Harbour’s star pairing of Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu and Emilia Shearer made sure that Harbour would come out on top.
They will be up against Waikato who held off Taranaki to win their semi-final 72-56.
Wiry guard and captain Quaye Walker-Eketone and the long Dominique Stephens will be important to Waikato’s fast, pressing play-style. As important will be a source of energy for the team, which coach Tyler Wilkinson talked about.
“It’s a hard schedule for these kids. Two games a day plus the turnaround this morning from last night – nine o’clock this morning and then 2:15pm… but we make sure we keep their fitness levels up all through the year, and that’s what’s sustaining them now,” said Wilkinson.
Later in the night, Harbour A Boys comfortably saw off Palmerston North to win the first of the Boys semi-finals.
Up 28-points at half-time, Harbour coach Zac Fitzgerald was able to rest his starters for the majority of the second half in what Fitzgerald believes will be a vital advantage heading into Saturday’s final.
“It’s good to share the minutes around and keep everybody fresh for tomorrow. That way we can come out and really be the best that we can.”
Friday’s later semi-final was a contrast to its earlier, with Wellington edging Waikato 66-65. Despite missing many of their late free-throws, the host city held on resulting in a delighted coach, Jayden Smith.
“It was just so special because I could see the boys really wanted it… Against Canterbury we dug deep and now, as we’ve just seen against Waikato, we held on to get this really crucial win to move onto tomorrow’s grand final.”
Arguably the two deepest teams in the Boys side of the tournament made the final, making for a real duel which can be seen live at nzherald.co.nz/basketball on Saturday at 4.15pm.
Before that, though, is Girls final, tipping off at 2.30pm, which will involve a great contest down low between Stephens and Kailahi-Fulu.
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In the build-up to the Australia Junior Championships, Taranaki’s Caitlin O’Connell thought her chances of making the New Zealand Under-16 team for the tournament were over after missing out on the second trial for the squad.
Instead, the 13-year-old O’Connell was placed in the Koru team – a development side including players who missed out on Under-16 and Under-16 ‘A’ honours.
After an impressive showing during her time with the Koru team, O’Connell was recalled back to take part in anoter NZ U16 trial. Again, standing out from her opposition, O’Connell defied the odds and was unexpectedly selected in the top NZ U16 team.
“I didn’t think I would get in, at all… It was really surprising,” stated O’Connell.
After making the squad O’Connell and her team competed the Australia Junior Championships, winning four of their six pool games to qualify for the knockout stages. On her way there, the Sacred Heart College, New Plymouth student caught some attention with her performances in the first and last pool games.
To open the tournament, O’Connell posted 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists – the second-top numbers in her team for each statistic. This was then followed up in the side’s 68-57 win over South Australia Country as O’Connell recorded 10 points, four boards and two assists before leading her team in assists as NZ won a seventh place finish over Queensland North.
However, O’Connell is hoping that her and her Taranaki side can go several steps further in the 2016 Under-15 National Championship, hoping to win it all, saying “If we work together I think we can [win the championship].”
The day one results in Wellington suggest that is a real possibility. Taranaki’s opening match against Southland was comfortable for O’Connell’s side – winning 91-38 as O’Connell contributed 13 points.
Later in the day Taranaki continued their hot run as they took care of Gisborne 70-47 with O’Connell again surpassing double-digits to score 12 points.
Continuing their quest for national glory, Taranaki take on Wellington at 8.00am tomorrow before a potential top-of-Pool-A clash with Rotorua at 4.45pm to round out the team’s pool play.
Should Taranaki progress deep into the tournament, it will be another box ticked off for O’Connell, though she is also hoping, on a personal note, to make the tournament team before dreaming one day to play college basketball in the United States and progress higher up the nation team ranks.
Rongotai College boasts one of the strongest Junior Basketball programs in New Zealand. In recent times their premier Juniors won the lower North Island Championships and the National 3×3 Championships. In 2010 the school’s gym burned to the ground in a Boxing Day fire! Matt Eagle is the Director of Basketball at the College and has enjoyed a long and extensive involvement with the sport.
When did your involvement with Rongotai basketball start?
The sport took off at the college in the late 1970s, under the coaching of Gareth Rapson, a former NZ Rep whom I describe as the Father of Rongotai Basketball. He pretty quickly lead us to two 5thplace finishes at Nationals in ’78 and ‘79, then we took out the National title in 1980. I was lucky enough to Captain that team and the lessons you learn from those experiences have lifelong value. We’ve scaled the highest level of play, so we know how to do it, even if it may take time to get back there. We know what we are looking for.
My basketball knowledge grew further as I played a couple of years on the Wellington Saints ’82 – ‘83, then played and coached 2nd Division with the Morehu Club and also coached their women’s team to the National club title in 1984 and back to the Final again in 1985. Those were rich experiences as a player which have helped me as a coach.
Tell us about you early coaching success at Rongotai?
I started coaching Rongotai teams immediately after leaving school. I had joined Gareth on the teaching staff and we went on a decade long journey of success – including five Wellington Premier Senior titles plus two Junior titles and a few near misses as well (lost 3 Senior finals and 4 junior!).
Players of note during this run included Tall Blacks Chris Tupu (Rongotai Junior Head Coach) and Troy McLean (Scots College Senior Head Coach), Gareth’s three sons (Brook, Lee and Scott), Kemara Fuimaono (father of the Samuels boys currently starring at St Pats Town and Scots) and also Sione Faumuina (Kiwi league player).
Things fell away for a while I understand. Why did this happen?
Our successes had been based on having that consistent mix. Having two fulltime teachers who are coaching every day, especially at lunchtimes, makes a huge difference to the rate players can move along the learning curves and we were fortunate to have had that when Gareth and I were the lead duo, alternately sharing the driving of Seniors and Juniors (and we also had American Angelo Hill on staff for a year in 1996). Critically, we were singing from the same page of our coaching philosophy and strategy. I think lots of schools struggle to build strong programmes in that respect, of really having a clear coaching philosophy and playing style. They manage to recruit willing volunteers to coach but don’t always maintain a continuity of the developmental experience for their athletes.
Once Gareth retired from teaching in 1997 we struggled to maintain that consistency. We managed our last Premier title in 1998. Then we had a succession of Junior coaches and while we always had talent, we couldn’t quite harness it as successfully. The rise of professional rugby probably shifted the focus of some students away from basketball too. The most frustrating part of the period of decline were local families choosing to enrol their sons at other schools whose programmes were on the rise, when we might have reasonably expected they would naturally come to Rongotai. That was part of a changing landscape in school sports in NZ.
Chris Tupu & Zico Coronel have joined the coaching staff. What do they bring?
Chris is a legend of New Zealand basketball and he brings a wealth of experience as both an international player and coach. Zico has a superb technical appreciation of the game and his experiences on the Saint’s coaching staff, and in working with national age-group teams, integrate pretty smoothly with Chris’ talents.
How has basketball changed in Wellington?
The game hasn’t changed really. It’s still basketball. But the offensive skills of some young players are now simply amazing, as is the general level of athletic ability. That’s probably no different to most sports, though. However, while the offensive skills are impressive, I don’t think we’ve seen a balanced development of defensive skills and strategy. Game scores are much higher now and I simply think that too much time is spent by coaches on just one aspect of the game, rather than really developing players’ ability to keep offensive players under control. I think that’s indicative of lack of sharing of knowledge amongst coaches or the lack of a forum to do that in.
However, the profile of the sport has sky-rocketed due to the success of the Breakers, the growing competitiveness of the Tall Blacks, and the Steven Adams effect, of course. So that’s lead to more kids picking up the game at a younger age, which translates to more kids with good ball skills at a young age. The ability of Kiwi players to gain US college scholarships is more widespread and that helps build strong pathways too.
In Wellington, the move into the ASB Sports Centre has made everyone feel good about playing and it’s brought Friday nights to life in a visible and exciting way. The dream is to have all 12 courts at ASB fully equipped for basketball, then we could shift the Junior divisions in there also.
Rongotai are the North Island and Junior 3×3 champs? Tell me about these wins?
The Junior 3X3 tournament is pretty new, it’s only been running for three years, so winning the title is exciting, particularly as it was in Auckland where we probably aren’t well known as a college.
The lower North Island Junior title is a really strong indicator of where our programme is at in relation to the rest of the country. This has always been a really tough region as there are a lot of very strong basketball programmes in our region with great coaches who have been working their craft for long periods. I would expect our junior success would translate into the Senior ranks in the next couple of years. It’s really satisfying to see the programme gaining strength from these successes, as it validates many years of effort that have been invested in keeping it afloat when the wins were much harder to come by.
Who are the leading players in the junior program at present?
To win premiership titles in Wellington and the Lower North Island in 2015, and to win the 3×3 Junior Nationals and be unbeaten thus far in 2016, you have to have significant athletes leading the way. Ezrah Vaigafa is a member of the NZ Under 16 “A” team. Jaylin To’o went close to gaining a spot in that squad to. Te Hoera Sullivan and Reon Paul are superb athletes. Charlie Symon, Evander Rongotaua-Tere and Zach Campbell-Smith are really promising as well.
How do you maintain this momentum?
We always complete a table projecting our likely squads, looking ahead 3-4 years and also including those who have left school, so that we can consider meeting their needs as well. That’s a basic example of the detailed thinking which helps build a complete programme. We know most of the Year 8 students already enrolled at the college for next year and have started doing developmental work with them. We have a legitimate Senior B team again, with mostly Year 11 players and that’s a valuable team where young seniors get to build their confidence. We’re now seeing the sons of previous players entering our school and we are confident they will contribute to the proud legacy of basketball at Rongotai, just like their fathers.
Note: Rongotai College run their own leagues for adults (men and women) – the Rongotai Flight League (RFL) and a youth league for their development teams – Flight League Youth (FLY).
Action on the basketball court has been hot in Term Two. Who has stood out? Who is likely to be crowned National Champions in Term Three? How is your school going midterm?
Auckland has produced four of the last five National Champions and is widely tipped to do so again. The premier competition resumes on July 29 and there are three rounds, plus a few catch-up games, to play before the semi-finals. The Top Four is unlikely to change, though the order in which they finish could. Presently the top four is:
Rosmini College are the dark horse to gain Auckland honours. They have beaten each of the top three sides, but lost twice 77-80 and 44-61 to sixth placed Mount Albert Grammar School.
Rosmini shocked Rangitoto 82-75 in their first meeting, but Rangitoto won the rematch 91-76 on the back of 27 points by Sam Waardenburg. Rosmini won their first clash with Westlake BHS a couple of weeks ago 71-63. Mitchell Dance scored 17 points and Taine Wattie, also a member of the First XV, contributed 10 points.
College Sport Wellington’s Pohlen Cup is congested at the top of the table heading into the break. Scots College and St. Pat’s Town are 5-1 while a vastly improved Wellington College are 5-2.
Last week Scots suffered a shock 73-61 defeat to Aotea College. The win was largely thanks to Olano Afutoto and Seamus Curtin who managed 19 and 18 points respectively.
The top three in Wellington is unlikely to change though obviously the order could. The battle for fourth place is a real dogfight with Aotea College (3-4), Hutt Valley High School (3-4) and possibly defending champions Onslow College (2-5) and St. Pats Silverstream (2-5) poised to make a late push.
Wellington College made a big early season statement with two rare victories over St. Pats Town. However in the actual competition Town beat Wellington 78-64 on June 17. Corey Le’aupepe scored 25 points for Town. Wellington’s prolific scoring guard Sione Helu was held to 21 points.
Scots College missed the playoffs in 2015, but are genuine championship contenders in 2016. They thrashed perennial powerhouse St. Pats Town 82-62 in May with Taane Samuel scoring 25 points.
The Wellington and Scots game on June 10 was a shootout between Helu and Samuel. Samuel scored 37, Helu 36 as Wellington prevailed 93-88. Samuel also scored 37 points for Scots in their thrilling 90-84 win against St. Pats Silverstream.
Campbell Stephen from Hutt Valley High School is the leading scorer in the competition having amassed 196 points in seven games.
Otago Boys’ High Schoolwere National Champions in 2014, but are very much in a rebuilding phase. Recently they lost a traditional exchange to Christchurch Boys’ High School 104-48.
Canterbury is where the real strength resides in Southern basketball at present.
The second stage of the McDonalds Thompson Trophy is underway. After a nine-round first stage of the competition, the Trophy now splits into two pools, with each side playing five games. The top two sides from each pool go through to the semi-finals in late August, with the grand-final the following night to crown a champion.
Round One Standings
Pool A:Christchurch BHS, Ashburton College, Middleton Grange, St Bede’s College (Promoted), Burnside High School, Rangiora High School.
Pool B:Cashmere HS, Shirley BHS, Christ’s College, Papanui High School, St Thomas CC, Cathedral College (Promoted)
This graphic via NZhoops showcases some of the leading talent on display.
Note:One of the real highlights of this season was the performance of Cathedral College’s Jeremy Ebuenagainst St. Andrew’s College. Ebuen scored a competition record 52 points in his sides’ 117-86 win.
Hillcrest High School led by New Zealand representative Hamish McDonald are unbeaten in the Waikato Secondary Schools competition. They finished in the top eight at Nationals last year and are shaping as a possible title contender.
The Super 8 tournament is staged at Palmerston North BHS from August 8-10. Rotorua BHS finished fourth in New Zealand last year, but have fallen away badly in 2016. New Plymouth BHS and defending champions Hastings BHS look strongest in the Central North Island area, but Palmerston North with seven-footer Callum McRae are a tough prospect too.
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