Seeing others celebrate success at Nationals has driven Rangitoto College basketball captain Isaac Davidson to greater heights in 2015.
"In 2013 we finished second and in 2014 we finished third. I wanted the title badly this year. Watching others celebrate hurts," Davidson laments.
Rangitoto's quest for the illusive prize would be compromised by the frequent absence of Tai Wynyard. The Tall Black bound for the prestigious University of Kentucky only played a handful of games for his school this year.
How did the team adjust to Wynyard's lack of court time?
"It was tough at first because Tai is such a big part of the team, but at the same time it was a blessing in disguise. It allowed us to build depth across the board. Everybody had lots of experience by the Nationals," Davidson says.
With the exception of the Fraser High School game (won 97-82) Rangitoto cruised through pool play winning every game by more than 20 points.
In the quarter final Rangitoto eliminated Super 8 Champions Hastings Boys' High School 92-81. Davidson top scored with 21 points.
One of the features of Rangitoto's play was that nobody scored over 25 points in a single game and they boasted the top rebounder Brayden Igner and assist maker Josiah Williams at Nationals.
However their big guns were required to tame a fierce challenge from Rotorua Boys' High School. Rotorua finished ninth in 2014 and didn't even feature in the main draw a year earlier. Davidson was well aware of the threat they poised though.
"We played them in the group stage last year and they were the toughest game we had. They were dynamic and had the makings of a really good side," Davidson says.
Rotorua was up 67-64 with under a minute left, but Davidson landed a long three to take the game into overtime.
In the extra period Wynyard claimed eight of the ten points scored by Rangitoto, including a faultless 4 from 4 from the free throw line as Rangitoto prevailed 77-76. Davidson top scored with 21 points, but recalls the drama lasted right to the end.
"It was really nerve-racking. Mikaere Watene had the last shot of the game for Rotorua. It was similar to the one Matt Freeman hit to win Westlake's semi-final. We were lucky Watene's missed."
Watene scored a game-high 27 points.
In the final Rangitoto was unstoppable. They led from start to finish and won emphatically by 80-63. Davidson admits the victory was very sweet.
"Westlake is a fierce rival. They are just down the road so we play them a lot and know their game really well - as they know ours well. I think we did a good job limiting some of their good players. Matt Freeman only got 28 points. If he had got nothing in the final he would have still averaged 33 for the tournament."
Davidson scored 13 points in the decider. Wynyard was in sparkling form. He had 23 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks.
Davidson was surprised to be named in the tournament team given the all-round contribution of everybody. He is seeking a scholarship in the US and wishes to study law next year.
Note: The coach of Rangitoto is Kenny Stone. Stone won several National titles as a player and guided the North Harbour Under-17 team to the National championship this year.
If you were to answer the Leger-Walker family at St. Peter's Cambridge you wouldn't be far from the truth.
St. Peter's are the National Secondary Schools basketball champions and also won the 3x3 version in the summer.
Sisters Krystal and Charlisse are members of both teams. At the AA nationals they were named in the tournament team with the former judged player of the tourney.
Mum Leanne Walker represented New Zealand in basketball and touch, twice attending the Olympics. She coaches the team and is the Year 13 dean at the college.
Both sisters rate the National triumphs highly in their list of achievements, but it isn't the pinnacle of their success.
Krystal says making the Tall Ferns as a 16 year old was a lifelong ambition fulfilled.
"I trailed for the Tall Ferns last year and was honoured to make the team. We travelled to China and played in a Four Nations tournament. Though we lost every game we were very competitive and I learned a lot," she explains.
Remarkably Charlisse is only Year 9. She has already represented New Zealand at Under-16 and 17 level.
"I played for the 16's at the Australian state championships last year and this year with the 17's at the Oceania championships. Unfortunately we lost to Australia, but it was a great experience," Charlisse says.
St. Peter's was third at AA Nationals in 2014. They singled they would be an even stronger contender in 2015 when they won the regional title three weeks before the main event in Palmerston North.
St. Peter's breezed through Pool A winning all five games by an average of 32 points.
In the quarter finals they faced a major obstacle in defending champions New Plymouth Girls High School.
St. Peter’s started strongly holding New Plymouth to nine in the first quarter. New Plymouth rallied and led at halftime. In the third quarter St Peter’s edged ahead 37-34 and extended to win 55-46. Charlisse top scored with 22 points and Krystal contributed 11 points.
Both girls agree Hamilton Girls High School was the toughest opponents they faced this season. Despite winning five out of six previous encounters before the semi-final a win is never guaranteed. Krystal illustrates the significance of the rivalry.
"We know Hamilton Girls' really well because we play them a lot. Several of us are in the Waikato reps together so the games are always intense," she says.
In a tough and low scoring affair Hamilton led 28-19 at halftime. The sisters steeped up big time in the second half and St. Peter's won 43-40. Krystal ended with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Charlisse scored 15 points and collected 15 rebounds.
In the final last year's runners up Wellington Girls College was the opposition. They proved to be stubborn combatants but were eventually subdued 64-54.
Krystal played close to a perfect game. She scored 14 points snatched eight rebounds and shared six assists. Charlisse chimed in with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Between them in the finals the sisters scored 90 of St. Peter's 162 points. That equates for more than half of the teams' entire total. Captain Krystal is quick to complement the support of her teammates.
"It's take a team to win the National title and every girl steeped up this year. We had a lot of experience and that counted, but the new girls on the team were really good to."
Kendall Heremaia top scored in the final with 17 points and also cracked the tournament team.
Krystal emphasis Mum had a big part to play.
"Mum and I live on top of each other which can sometimes be frustrating. She is my Mum, my coach and my dean. This has its advantages to. We can just look at each other and know what we are thinking."
Krystal has even played with Mum in the National women's league.
Charlisse hasn't played a senior game with Mum but will miss playing with Krystal next year as the latter hunts a scholarship in the US.
Charlisse says the biggest things she has learned this year is that it takes "composure," "toughness" and "discipline" to be successful in basketball.
Despite a herculean effort Matt Freeman was unable to lead Westlake Boys’ High School to a sixth National basketball title in 11 years.
In the decider Auckland champions Rangitoto College proved too strong winning 80-63, despite a game-high 28 points by Freeman.
“You’ve got to hand it to Rangitoto. They were too strong for us. Their depth allowed them to rotate a lot and never lose momentum. They forced us into taking bad shots,” Freeman concedes.
Westlake only hit 2-17 three pointers and were out-rebounded 48-34.
Westlake had to work extremely hard just to qualify for the final. They dropped a group game to eventual semi-finalists Rotorua Boys’ High School and were forced to face Middleton Grange in the quarter finals.
Middleton had last year’s tournament MVP Sam Timmins in their roster. The game turned out to be a rollercoaster.
Westlake built a lead of 19 at one stage in the first half, only for Middleton Grange to come roaring back and build their own double digit lead, up 79-63 with less than six minutes to play after a Jackson Stent (32 points) dunk.
At this point Freeman admits he thought Westlake were finished.
“I thought we were gone, but we never give up.”
After a timeout Westlake embarked on a 10-0, Freeman was responsible for every point with a three, a floater, dunk, and then an impressive step back three.
Rattled Middleton started to miss and eventually Westlake overhauled the South Island champions and prevailed 91-86. Freeman finished with 47 points. Logan Hunt contributed 18.
How much did Freeman enjoy getting one over Timmins?
“Playing Sam is a lot of fun. We have spent a lot of time together and he is like my brother. We have a rivalry like brothers on the court. It’s intense, but respectful,” Freeman says.
Another figure Freeman respects is Fraser High School coach Jeff Green. The polarising four-time National basketball league champion has had his critics over the years, but Freeman is a fan.
“I form my own opinions on people and I really like Jeff. I had him as a coach and found him knowledgeable and passionate.”
Passions were high when Westlake faced Fraser in the semi-finals. The lead changed hands eleven times in the first-half and scores were tied 99-99 with five seconds remaining when Freeman converted a difficult baseline turnaround jump shot to win the game 101-99. Freeman scored a staggering 50 points.
“If I am being honest the quarter and semi were the best games I have played for Westlake, but that wouldn’t be possible without the support of my teammates. They gave me good looks to do my thing,” Freeman says.
Jeff Green was doing his thing, willing or taunting his own players to do better and occasionally chipping away at Freeman.
“He was saying Freeman’s not that good, he can’t rebound. He came up to me at the end of the game and said, ‘you’re still the man,’” Freeman laughs.
Playing his last game for Westlake is no laughing matter for Freeman. He leaves with the 2012 National title and a place on the 2014 and 2015 tournament teams.
“College basketball is something I will never forget. It’s always fun training and playing with your mates. I will miss if for sure,” Freeman admits.
In January Freeman will leave New Zealand and commence his basketball scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a NCAA Division I college and the former home of NBA superstar Blake Griffin.
Freeman says the “family oriented” approach of the institution appealed, especially given he is a long way from home.
Freeman will spend the first six months observing as the season will be at the halfway point when he arrives.
In 2016/17, he hopes to push for a spot in the roster and eventually became a professional.
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