The National Secondary Schools' boys AA basketball champions are in Palmerston North next week.
The tournament always throws up plenty of names to watch. Here are a few names that could catch fire in 2015.
Tai Wynyard - The six foot nine power forward from Rangitoto College became the youngest man to play for the Tall Blacks in 2014 when he stepped onto the court against Korea.
He has captained the Junior Tall Blacks, appeared for the New Zealand Breakers and signed a high profile scholarship to the famous University of Kentucky in the US.
Rangitoto won the Auckland title and their Regional title in 2015 and are perhaps the favourites to capture their first national title.
Wynyard with his height, athleticism and accurate shooting can completely dominate a game.
Sam Aruwa - Sam is one of the leading basketball players at Auckland Grammar School. The Year 12 power forward has represented the New Zealand Under-17 team. He also toured Australia with the New Zealand Under-16 team in 2013. New Zealand won three out of four game and Aruwa was the highest scorer in two games.
Aruwa travelled to Las Vegas to try out for opportunities in the US earlier this year and made a strong impression as have Auckland Grammar in 2015. They were a top four Auckland School and beat Westlake Boys and Rangitoto during the season.
Logan Elers - When Logan Elers was Year 10 at Rotorua Boys’ High School, basketball wasn’t a sport that was taken very seriously. Elers remembers “walking” into the top team and several boys in his first season frequently missing training.
Last year Rotorua finished a respectable ninth at the National Secondary Schools tourney and this year they made their first ever Super 8 final, narrowly losing to Hastings Boys’ High School in the decider.
Logan is a 1.96m-tall forward. He was the only Rotorua player named in the 10-strong New Zealand team that competed at the Australian Under-18 Championships last year.
He has trailed twice for the New Zealand Breakers and in 2014 was a member of the Rotorua team that won the National Under-19 title.
Logan is the deputy sports captain at school and a part time Maths tutor. He has been awarded the most outstanding players at Boys’ High for the last three years.
Isaiah Jones-Mitchell - The Year 11 guard from Hastings Boys' High School scored a game-high 21 points and won the tournament MVP award at the Super 8 tourney in June. Hastings won the Super 8 crown for the second time in three years.
Jones-Mitchell stands 188cm, which is small in basketball terms. However he is noted for his quickness of movement, superior passing and sound judgment. Hastings is regularly in the top ten at Nationals and the form of Jones-Mitchell will be key to leading Hastings to that sort of position again.
Shay Graham - Onslow College won the Wellington competition beating Newlands College 78-65 in the final. Graham top scored in the final with 21 points. Graham is a prolific scorer, he was the second highest scorer in Wellington.
Shay's sporting interests are not confined to basketball. He has made a mark as a rower and played rugby for the Onslow first XV this year.
He was selected for the North Island under-18 team rowing team last year, has been a medallist at the Maadi Cup regatta and won a North Island title.
His rowing prowess attracted interest from Ivy League universities in the US but he decided that his heart lay with basketball.
His twin sister Tegan also plays basketball for Onslow.
Matt Freeman - Westlake Boys' High School have won the national championship five times in the last decade and finished second last year.
Freeman who stands 206cm and 91kg is the key player for the North Shore powerhouse. He is a swift moving small forward with the ability to hit shots both inside and outside the key.
Freeman was a member of the New Zealand 3x3 under-18 team that won the World Championships and has represented New Zealand at under-18 level.
Earlier this year he was invited to attend the inaugural Basketball without Borders Global Camp in New York. Forty leading youngsters from around the world were selected to participate in skills, games and theory sessions with some of the leading coaches in the USA.
Quinn Clinton - The Year 12 from Christchurch Boys' High School was a sensation at the National Under-15 championships a year ago being named most valuable player for the tournament.
Clinton scored a game-high 33 points in the final, while also grabbing 14 rebounds, as Canterbury lost a tense decider to North Harbour 80-77.
In Canterbury's semi-final victory over Waitakere West, he was just as destructive, racking up 43 points and 12 rebounds, while landing nine three-pointers from 16 attempts.
Clinton has played for the Canterbury Rams and has represented New Zealand at Under-16 level.
The finishing touches are being put on preparations for New Zealand’s 23 top ranked senior girls’ basketball school teams to descend on Arena Manawatu in Palmerston North for next week’s 2015 national secondary schools tournament.
The competing schools will be split into three pools of six and one of five for pool play on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, with the crossover rounds on Thursday and Friday, leading up to the third and fourth playoff match and the grand final on Saturday.
The top ranked sides heading into the tournament in New Zealand’s four respective basketball zones are Rangitoto College, St Peter’s Cambridge, Wellington Girls’ College and St Hilda’s College.
The four pools are:
Pool A: Wellington Girls’ College, Auckland Girls’ Grammar School, Rangiora High School, New Plymouth Girls’ High School, Massey High School.
Pool B: Napier Girls’ High School, Christchurch Girls’ High School, Hamilton Girls’ High School, Marlborough Girls’ College, Hutt Valley High School, Palmerston North Girls’ High School,
Pool C: St Peter’s Cambridge, Westlake Girls’ High School, Waimea College, Western Heights High School, Orewa College, Sacred Heart College New Plymouth
Pool D: Rangitoto College, St Hilda’s College, Fraser High School, St. Kentigern College, St Mary’s College Wellington, Tauranga Girls’ College.
New Plymouth Girls’ High School are the defending champions, having beaten Wellington Girls’ College 64-46 in last year’s final. Junior Tall Ferns player Kayla Manuirirangi was the tournament MVP, and is back this this year to spearhead her team.
Wellington Girls’ College Head Coach Steve Graham told College Sport Media this week that his team is looking forward to the chance to compete for the title again.
“Our team is well prepared to give it a shot in Palmerston North and we have almost all our girls back from last year’s team that made the final, “ he said. “Eight of the 12 girls in our squad this year are Year 13s so this is their last hurrah.
So it is really a mental thing now as to how they play, when they pull it together they play magical basketball.”
“There’s great chemistry in our team and we all get on well. We don’t talk about winning national titles; we just talk about our performances game by game. Our mantra is one game at a time, play hard, have fun, this is it.”
Wellington Girls’ College won the lower North Island Championships a few weeks ago, winning all their games, including beating second placed qualifier Napier Girls’ College 100-58.
They won the Wellington Regional Championship Sharp Cup by beating Wellington rivals St Mary’s College 65-28 in the final, with coach Steve’s daughter and Junior Tall Fern Tegan Graham scoring 28 points. They won 10 of their 11 matches in this competition, their only loss being a 61-62 defeat to St Mary’s in round-robin play.
As well as being beating finalists last year, Wellington Girls’ finished fifth in 2013, which Steve said was a great result because they had a young team of mostly Year 11s.
“Last we went into the national tournament which much greater expectations and only lost one game, and that was the final. We had beaten New Plymouth twice before but we had a couple of key players and they were a really good team.”
Steve said that the competition will be tough in Palmerston North next week.
“I think we have a super tough pool to get of first. For example, we are supposed to be seeded number one in our pool. But we are going against the third school from Auckland in a strong competition, and against the third school from the South Island, and they only lost one game this year, and against the defending champions.
“But I remind everyone that last year we had to go through everyone too to reach the final. We played Rangitoto, we played Westlake and we played then reigning champions Christchurch. This year’s no exception – let’s say we do well in our pool we are going to play either Westlake or St Peter’s Cambridge and they are two of the toughest teams.”
Photo Credit - Dave Lintott
Tai Wynyard admits he only started taking basketball seriously two years ago.
In December the 6-10 power forward will head to the University of Kentucky on a basketball scholarship.
Kentucky is the winningest NCAA Division I basketball program in history, holding both the most all-time wins (2178) and the highest all-time winning percentage (.764). They have won eight national titles and contributed several players to the NBA.
Wynyard explains just how deep basketball runs in the "Blue Nation."
"It's huge. It's just like the All Blacks, but only in Kentucky. You can go to the local supermarket and there will be ten people wearing a Kentucky singlet. If you wear a rival teams' uniform you look silly," he says
"The stadium holds something like twenty thousand people and when I was over there the people were real nice. They put me up in a flash hotel."
Born in Auckland, Wynyard comes from a talented sports family. His father (Jason) and mother (Karmyn) are both world wood chopping champions.
"My parents are the most important people in my life. Mum had three kids and managed to balance that and be a world champion, that's crazy," Wynyard says.
Wynyard attends Rangitoto College. In September 2014 he helped the school win the Auckland Premier Basketball title, recording 24 points and seven rebounds in the final against Auckland Grammar School.
His dominant play for the College led to a National call up. On 15 July 2014, Wynyard became the youngest Tall Black when he took to the court against South Korea in Wellington.
In August 2014, Wynyard signed with the New Zealand Breakers as a non-contracted development player so as to keep his amateur status and his NCAA eligibility. He made his debut for the Breakers in just the second game of the season against the Adelaide 36ers.
He later missed out on making the final squad for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain as he went on to lead the Junior Tall Blacks in December during the 2014 Oceania Championships in Fiji.
However he was recalled to the Tall Blacks in 2015 for Stanković Cup triumph and the FIBA Oceania Championship series against Australia. Wynyard admits playing for New Zealand has been a bitter-sweet experience.
"It's been great to put on the black singlet and match-up against some really good players in Europe and Australia, but I remember before they named the most recent squad they told us in front of our faces who had made the cut and who hadn't. It was real tough to see some of the brothers miss out," he admits.
One thing Wynyard has missed out on is a National Secondary Schools' title. He is desperate to atone for this.
"Winning the National title is my number one goal. I have wanted that bad for a long time. The team has been getting better all season. We have done a lot more bonding off the court and we are gelling," he admits.
Rangitoto successfully defended their Auckland title was unbeaten in the regional tourney and are one of the favourites to win in Palmerston North in two weeks time.
Did You Know?
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member George Raveling is an agent and mentor for Wynyard. He is Nike's Global Basketball Sports Marketing Director and helped Wynyard attend the Jordon Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Submit scouting tourneys in the US. Raveling is the owner of the original typewritten, "I Have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Wynyard has played 19 games for the Super City Rangers in the NBL. He averages 5.4 points and 2.8 rebounds a game.
Kentucky was ranked the No.1 team in America and won 38 consecutive games until losing in the semi-finals of the Final Four National tournament.
Photo Supplied and Dave Lintott
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