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.
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