The following article was written for College Sport Wellington and first published in early September 2023 - before the Nationals which Wellington College won. Photo credit above: Masa, Photo Wellington.
Troy Plumtree (Year 12) is from a high-profile rugby family. His father John coached the Hurricanes, Wellington and the All Blacks. Older brother Reece has won three Jubilee Cup titles with Old Boys University and middle brother Taine is a Welsh international.
Troy thinks of little else but basketball. In the past fortnight, he's played seven matches helping Wellington College win the Pohlen Trophy and qualify for Nationals in late September by finishing second at the AA Zone 3 Regionals in Napier.
Wellington arrived home from the Zone tourney at 2 a.m. Sunday morning and was training again on Monday night.
Capital supremacy was the major focus in the bundle of fixtures and Plumtree delivered big time by scoring a game-high 30 points in the 109-104 win over St Patrick's College Silverstream in the Pohlen Trophy final on August 25.
Wellington won the title for just the second time since 1995 and achieving the feat for Plumtree came with added motivation.
“I missed the final we lost to them last year with a broken wrist,” he said.
“It was an awesome game, but I was absolutely gutted not to be involved.
“We hadn’t beaten Silverstream this year, but we had a good plan that worked. They run a hard defensive press, so we wanted to swing the ball quickly get them tired and avoid foul trouble.
“We were down by ten points in the second quarter but that wasn’t a big deal because we were down by 20 to them earlier in the season and only lost by two. We blew them away in the third quarter before they came back. It was a pretty wild game, and the crowd was nuts.”
Plumtree gave the boisterous crowd of more than 3,000 at the Akau Tangi Sports Centre plenty to cheer about. The 90kg, 6 ft 6, guard had his best game in a Wellington College singlet.
“I’d never scored that many points before in a game that mattered so much,” Plumtree said.
“I shot the ball well and landed four three-pointers which felt good. My job is to attack the rim hard, get lots of rebounds and press defensively which sometimes makes it hard to avoid fouls.
“The final was really special for our coaches and Year 13 boys like Murphy Rodgers, Ieremia Morris and Ezekiel Whitfield who have been awesome.”
Wellington carried on their momentum last week at the AA Zone 3 Regionals in Napier. Wins over Wairarapa College (135-63), St Patrick’s College, Wellington (119-68), Napier Boys’ High School (107-91), New Plymouth Boys’ High School (112-81) and Palmerston North Boys’ High School (96-78) secured a spot at Nationals which are being held at Central Energy Trust Arena in Palmerston North from September 25 to 30. There are 24 teams nationwide competing.
Plumtree was the top scorer for Wellington College at Regionals but sat out the final which Wellington lost to Silverstream who impressively swept all seven of their matches.
“We didn’t want to win that bad after making Nationals,” Plumtree said.
“We rested a few of our guys whereas they were desperate to pay us back from the Wellington final. I can’t wait for Nationals. It’s going to be intense.”
Following the Regional Basketball Championships in early September, there was a poll on Instagram asking, ‘Who will win Nationals?’
Wellington College wasn’t among the five schools listed. And yet they beat them all, including every regional champion, to win their first National title in Palmerston North.
“I’m a builder and my assistant [Malachi Collins] is my apprentice,” Wellington College coach Tom Grice laughed. “Someone said to me after the final, ‘Who would have thought a builder, and his apprentice would coach a team to the national title?’
“All year this team was underestimated and written off. That created a chip on our shoulders. This team never reached its full potential until they were truly challenged. They played better when the games were closer - when we were up by 20 points, we’d make so many mistakes. The boys weren’t locked in.”
Still, winning six elimination matches in four days – all by less than 10 points - is an arduous route to glory in anyone's book.
Wellington age group representative Murphy Rogers is Wellington's captain. He was cautiously optimistic about his side’s prospects at the beginning of the week.
"I feel like the top eight was a comfortable goal for us. That was realistic. We knew we could push for the top four, but it was going to be a tough road there,” he said.
Winning the Pohlen Trophy final against St Patrick’s College Silverstream in August was a mighty triumph, but a 99-54 thrashing at the hands of the same opponent less than a fortnight later in the Zone 3 Premiership decider hardly had the entire country trembling at Wellington’s prospects.
Three wins would be required to advance to the playoff stages at Nationals. Day One saw Wellington achieve par with a win against Mount Maunganui College after an educational setback against Hamilton Boys' High School.
"We had a good start, took the foot off the gas, let them get back in the game and never got it back,” Grice said. “We were seven points down when I decided to experiment a bit. That didn’t work but we learned some things which helped. If we played them nine more times, we’d beat them every time.”
That confidence didn't appear misguided against Auckland Grammar School. Running a larger opponent ragged stretched proceedings to extra time, with Wellington narrowly missing the last shot in regulation to win. And then the roof caved in – literally.
"There was a massive leak, so we had to switch courts. Our plan was to run them ragged, but the 10-minute delay was all they needed to get their legs back. A three-point loss to one of the best teams in the country was nothing to get mad at,” Grice said.
“Grammar was a well-rounded team,” Rodgers observed. “Jackson Kiss is only Year 11 but he’s a tough player. During the delay, I tried to make sure the boys stayed warm, loose, and locked in. We took a lot of heart from that game.”
Crucially, New Zealand U17 representative Troy Plumtree returned from Qatar to rejoin Wellington.
Their next assignment would be even more daunting. Rosmini College had won two of the last four Nationals, but Wellington produced arguably their best display of the tournament to subdue the North Harbour powerhouse.
“They never went on a run against us. We kept pushing them on defence and ran our offence efficiently. It was a good game,” Grice said.
The always dogged Feilding High School had to be conquered to ensure qualification for the next round. But early disaster struck Wellington.
“I did my ankle after two minutes and was out for the rest of that game,” Rodgers mourned.
“I was confident the boys could pull through. We had a bit of momentum after Rosmini, but Feilding was tough. Dov [Silberstein] hit a big shot towards the end to get us over the line.”
“We had a handful of guys score double figures in that game despite Mia Morris, another one of our key guys, getting injured,” Grice explained. “That was a theme of the tournament. When someone went down, someone else stood up.
“When we got ahead, we didn’t call a time out. There was no panic. I didn’t want to Feilding to make any adjustments that could hurt us.
“These are high school kids; they’re not running a professional offensive. If you watch a couple of quarters, you’ll quickly see where teams fall to comfort. You already know who the bigger players are. Basketball New Zealand puts stats online which is helpful to find out who the middle scorers are. You might throw in one or two different things each game, otherwise, you must trust your systems.”
Rodgers didn’t trust his swollen ankle to get through the preliminary quarter-final against St Thomas of Canterbury College.
Complaints by player Joe McDonald about his health were irritating for Grice. “Joe told me he was sick. ‘Sick mate? This is nationals go and watch the ‘Flu game’ I told him.’
Grice was referring to the famous Flu Game - Game Five of the 1997 NBA finals. Riddled with the illness, Michael Jordan hit the game-winner for the Chicago Bulls. The inspiration of Jordan proved the perfect medicine for McDonald as he emulated MJ.
“They had a contested three to win which hit the back of the rim, but a shot by Joe with only seconds left was another shift in belief upwards,” Grice said.
McDonald was too shattered to recover for the quarter-final, so sick on the bench he had to be dragged home by his mum, Sopo. But there was no way Rodgers and Morris were missing another encounter with St Patrick's College, Silverstream. Another epic tussle was a true showcase of capital basketball.
"We're undersized in Wellington, so we tend to full-court press on defence and get out running on offence. It makes for a quicker spectacle but demands a lot of fitness, " Grice observed.
Rodgers agreed: "It was pretty tough sliding and bringing the ball up on one foot. Dov took on a lot more duties which allowed me to look for corner opportunities and Dov to do his thing. He was huge. He missed the New Zealand team last year. This year Dov was MVP."
Rodgers contributed a dozen points in the 76-71 win, putting Wellington into the National semis for the first time since 2001.
Rotorua Boys' High School were the pre-tournament favourites. Prolific-scoring Christian Vano was an MVP-calibre talent. A typically strong start held Wellington in good stead initially until Vano became impossible to contain - forcing Grice’s hand. He turned to Ezekiel Whitfield, with the bleach-blonde hair.
“Christian was killing us. He had 30 points by the third quarter, so we put Ezekiel on him for the rest of the game. That was his only assignment, get Vano. Ezekiel shut him down. He only hit a couple more buckets and we clawed it back,” Grice says.
Rodgers' triple with only seconds left was one of the biggest shots of the tournament. Wellington won 91-82.
News of Wellington’s momentum was spreading. So much so, several members of the 1983 and 1984 teams, who were runners-up at Nationals, made the trek to Central Energy Trust Arena for the final.
Phil Jones is New Zealand basketball royalty. He played 22 seasons in the NBL for the Nelson Giants and logged 163 internationals for the Tall Blacks between 1995 and 2010. He coaches Waimea College and together with his son Hayden, the pair catapulted the Southerners into the final undefeated.
Like his dad, Hayden boats a deadeye shot but he was subbed early as Wellington made their customary strong start at one stage leading 44-32. Jones eventually caught fire and a slog ensued.
“They went up two or there in the last quarter which was the first time I felt like we might be losing grip,” Rodgers explained. “I got a layup over their big dude to put us up two with 40 seconds left, and then it got to the point they had to foul.
“When it was over, I couldn’t believe the number of Old Boys reaching out. I didn’t realise how much they cared.” Wellington had triumphed 77-72.
Ironically headmaster and former Tall Blacks Olympian, Glen Denham, missed the tournament - on business in England. Grice quipped, "He might find us some players."
Denham was naturally delighted with the result. As a player himself, he finished runner-up twice at Nationals with King’s High School, Dunedin in 1981 and 1982.
At a school assembly on Monday, the widow of the late Vic Paulson, Chloe Khasoulides, was acknowledged in front of the school. Vic was a teacher at Wellington College from 1974 to 2014 and is considered the "godfather" of the sport at Col. Denham had many on court tussles with Paulson.
Grice joined Wellington College midway through 2021. They hadn't won a game. In 2022 he took them to the Pohlen Trophy final having helped Tawa College win the same prize in 2020.
"As the years go by the boys will appreciate the enormity of what they've done. It's a massive tournament and everyone in this team contributed. It was such a great ride,” Grice said.
Rodgers realises that already, and has a special acknowledgement of his own. "Oh yeah. Can I thank my mum? Lisa is the manager. She loves it.”
Wellington College Nationals 2023
Coach: Tom Grice
Assistant Coaches: Malachi Collins, Mike Morris
Squad: Isaiah Brown, Ethan Fraenkel, Kael Kincaid, Wesley Kirwan, Sam Mastreani, Joseph McDonald, Ieremia Morris, Fred Oppenhuis, Troy Plumtree, Murphy Rodgers, Dov Silberstien, Ezekiel Whitfield.
Results & Top Points Scorer
From Queen Margaret College to the Tokomanawa Queens to New Zealand representative teams, culminating in her recent selection to the senior women’s Tall Ferns squad, Lilly Taulelei has had a stellar year.
One of a group of students at QMC studying for International Baccalaureate qualifications, Lilly is on the home stretch of finishing 11 exams, before finally catching her breath and taking some much-deserved time off over summer with family and friends.
There was little time for rest and reflection returning from Australia on her maiden tour with the Tall Ferns.
“I had to study for my school exams while I was recently away with the Tall Ferns,” said Lilly, “because my first exam was the day after I got back and the others quickly followed. There was lots of study over there as well as lots of basketball!”
Making the Tall Ferns squad and being in the full international environment was tough but rewarding for Lilly.
“That was my biggest highlight this year. My goal was to make the Tall Ferns when I was 21, so to make it now was a really big moment for me and my family.
“The tour to Australia was mentally and physically hard. There are lots of veteran players who know what is going on – there is no shallow end, it is straight into the deep end.
“But all the players and the staff were very supportive, making sure I knew what was going on and if I had any questions they were answered straightaway, and it was a great experience for me.”
On Sunday night at the College Sport Wellington Awards, she won the Girls Basketball accolade and then was announced as the Supreme Girls winner for 2022.
“It was a huge surprise and real honour to win the main award,” said Lilly. “I felt privileged to win the basketball award in the first place and then to win the supreme award felt surreal.
“I am very grateful to my family and to my school, who supported my basketball journey from the beginning. I am the first student from Queen Margaret College to win this award.
The last time a basketballer won the CSW Supreme Award was when Steven Adams won it in 2011.
Lilly is just the second female overall basketball winner since Sacred Heart College’s Melissa LeToa in 2003, whom Lilly’s dad’s family is friends with.
Ending the year with the Tall Ferns, Lilly earlier played for the New Zealand U17s at the FIBA U17 World Cup in July.
“My trip to Jordan and Hungary for that and finishing fourth in the Asia Cup to qualify and then 12th at the World Cup and meeting the best young players in the world was a big highlight. It was my first exposure to international basketball since 2019 after Covid, so it was great to travel and play with a good group of girls and an amazing coaching staff.”
Returning home, Lilly headed over to Australia to attend the NBA Basketball without Borders Academy camp and she made the All Star Five.
Another major experience was being part of the Tokomanawa Queens, winners of the inaugural Tauihi Aotearoa Basketball League.
She said being in the championship winning Queens environment with a group of senior professional players was huge for her. “It gave me a taste of what it meant to be a professional and how to function at that level and I learnt some tips from them that I will take with me throughout my basketball journey.”
Not forgetting too that QMC won the Sharpe Cup CSW Senior Girls title this year.
“I was proud of our team. I couldn’t be with them for that final because of other commitments, but I supported them from afar. “We had an amazing culture, and we had some girls who were just exposed to basketball this year so that was cool to see them go out and score some points, get some rebounds and show great defence.”
“Our school has seen a massive upswing in basketball participation over the past few years, so we have got some great young students who can carry the mantle into the future for QMC.”
Lilly’s Wellington U19 team also finished third at their Nationals this year. “It was nice to play with different girls, many of whom are usually our rivals in opposing teams. We always play great together, and it was good to get out on the court with them again and take a medal home.”
Lilly describes herself as a multi-skilled, versatile player – less concerned about specific positioning and looking to grow into a player that can cover most roles at any time.
“That is what I am trying to build, I believe that in the future and with my discussions with American Colleges, the game is becoming somewhat position-less.”
Lilly enjoys 3×3 basketball. “I love that version of the game too; it is a different kind of basketball and you have got to change your on-court IQ and strategy.”
She loves other sports. “I loved doing dragon boating again this year. I have always played netball as well and was in the QMC squad that made the CSW final against St Mary’s. But like school basketball, I couldn’t be there for lots of the games because of clashes. It was fantastic that we also finished fourth at the LNISS tournament and then made it to the national tournament that was played near home in Porirua.”
Juggling her sports duties with her role as head prefect of her school has also been challenging this year.
“One of the main things I have learnt from the position is my leadership style has had to adapt a lot this year. Because I couldn’t be there in person for a lot of events I have had to learn how to delegate and to open up my leadership style for others to take on some of the responsibilities.
“That skillset of being able to adapt helped me with my most recent Tall Ferns tour, There is a lot going on there. Guy Molloy is an amazing coach and he has a specific way of doing things. So for a 17-year-old you have to learn to adapt very quickly.
“Being head girl this year I have learnt how to change the way I talk and act around people. Talking with the year 12s is very different to the year 7s; conversing with the staff is different to the students. Being that versatile, adaptable person has really helped both my leadership and my basketball.”
Eleven is also the number of US Division 1 Colleges that have presented offers on the table for her for next year – something she is definitely set on but hasn’t made any decisions on where to yet.
She was born in Los Angeles, her parents both living and working there for a time in the early 2000s.
She has Māori and Samoan heritage, which she is proud of and will always carry with her too, no matter what and where the next few years bring on and off the court.
The old gym at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream is so cold it’s known as Siberia.
It’s not uncommon to see condensation emerging from boys’ mouths on warm afternoons.
In 2014 the Father Peter Blake Memorial Gym opened. It was described by Tall Blacks legend Thomas Abercrombie as “the best gym in New Zealand.”
Unsurprisingly such a plush facility, in addition to seriously hard work and a shift in culture, has seen basketball explode at Silverstream.
In 2008 there were two teams. Today there are over a dozen competitive teams and a number of social teams.
On Friday night at the ASB Sports Centre in Kilbirnie, the Senior A’s won the Pohlen Trophy for the first time with a thrilling 78-75 victory over perennial contenders, Wellington College.
An estimated 3,000 spectators attended the game with a boisterous atmosphere surely unrivalled by any code.
Bronson Schmidt-Uili arrived at Silverstream from Cronulla in Year 10. He now stands 6 ft 8. In 2019 he was a part of the first Junior A Silverstream team to win the Wellington title.
Continuity and maturity was crucial in the crazy climax to the season. Silverstream’s Senior A roster was settled and prepared for most challenges.
“The final was really scrappy, but that’s pretty much what we expected,” Schmidt-Uili said.
“We knew the referees would be a bit more lenient with foul calls because it was the final.
“It was a massive atmosphere and the environment was pretty new, but having all the Stream boys there to push us was huge. When we were on edge, they helped us with their encouragement.”
The lead changed multiple times throughout. With a couple of minutes left, Silverstream appeared in control when leading 76-67.
Inexplicably Silverstream then missed four consecutive free-throws and Wellington College cut the deficit to a point with a dozen seconds to spare.
“Free throws have been killing us all season so it wasn’t the biggest surprise to see those misses,” Schmidt-Uili laughed.
“We just had to make a big basket or not foul them or let them shoot three. We went into a zone, played good defence, and got a board before Hassan (Munir) made a huge play.
“They had a couple of shooters, Fleix (Tulloch) and Murphy (Rogers) who got hot.”
Rogers was imperious with 32 points, Harry Zangoropolos had a strong match with 18 points, but Tulloch was reduced to just three points.
Silverstream’s scoring was more evenly distributed. Hassan Munir topped the charts with 18 points, captain Tomasi Pavihi chimed in with 15 points and Schmidt-Uli contributed 13.
Silverstream beat Wellington College three times in 2022 with a Schmidt-Uli buzzer beater the difference in the previous clash.
“We had four players out with sickness and were down by 20 in the third quarter. They had a massive support crew and we had the Senior B’s after they finished their game.
“I got the inbound with a second left after we ran our usual play at the top of the key. I just backed up and let it go and in-she went. It was unreal.”
The Silverstream Senior B and C teams also won their respective finals on Friday night, following in the footsteps of the Junior A’s who claimed championship honours for the third time in four years.
Queen Margaret College (QMC) successfully defended the Sharp Cup Basketball Premiership with an 83-76 triumph over St Mary’s College at the ASB Centre on Friday night.
Tia Pavihi and Holly Morgan finished first and third respectively in the season points scoring charts, and both girls delivered big shifts in the decider. Pavihi scored a game-high 30 points while Morgan added 24 points to help arrest a halftime deficit.
Four of the QMC girls were involved in the Premier Netball final on Monday night where St Mary’s College beat QMC.
Between other sporting commitments, representative basketball duty, and of course education that leaves QMC little time to practice.
“Before games we literally don’t know who’s going to turn up,” Tia laughed.
“It’s been a bit dysfunctional off the court this year but when we are on court we have a really good vibe and lots of basketball experience. We’ve had a number of younger players step up.”
One of those players is Charlotte Horner who hit a massive corner triple late in the fourth quarter when QMC was only marginally ahead.
“It’s only her first year playing the sport. She’s not a natural but honestly she’s the reason we turn up every Friday. She’s got a great attitude, works hard, and really inspires the girls,” Tia said.
It is worth noting QMC accounted for half of the Wellington Under-17 representative team in 2021, and Wellington Saints legend Troy McLean does support the team in a coaching capacity on match days.
It doesn’t take much to fire QMC up for a match against St Mary’s. Pavihi dropped 36 points on St Mary’s when QMC beat them 84-61 on July 1. The final proved to be a much tougher affair.
“St Mary’s go crazy whenever any of their teams are in finals,” Tia said.
“I wasn’t surprised it was close but we noticed they didn’t sub a lot of their players, and we’re a very fit team. We backed ourselves to last.”
“They were really physical in the netball on Monday night,” Holly added.
“Their crowd was really loud and I think the pressure got to us. We were motivated to put things right.”
Holy and Tia have a strong chemistry, complementing each other on court. Holly described Tia as a “slashing point guard who’s really good at getting to the rim, shooting free-throws and three’s. Tia praised Holly for her “screen setting” and “great outside shooting.”
Against Kapiti College earlier this year the pair went berserk. Holly scored 45 points and Tia 43 in a crushing win. In fact QMC won all nine games in the round-robin, outscoring opponents, 866-383.
There is no respite for Holly or Tia. Both girls are involved with the QMC netball team at the Lower North Island tournament in Napier this week.
Queen Margaret College (QMC) has had the team on paper to deliver a maiden Sharp Trophy Wellington girls basketball championship for a handful of seasons.
In 2018 and 2019 they were beaten in the final by Hutt Valley High School and last year they were top four finishers.
On Friday night at the ASB centre the Presbyterians finally broke the glass ceiling, narrowly defeating Sacred Heart College 75-72 in the decider. Captain Lilly Taulelei stressed two prior defeats to Sacred Heart earlier in the season were vital in the triumph.
“We lost to them twice in the regular season, which really attests to what a great side they are. The game was really close. The biggest lead for any side was ten points which is nothing in basketball. It felt so great to play such a competitive game after lockdown.
“We talked about staying connected rather than chasing individual accolades. We tried to simplify everything. Instead of analysing everything the opposition does, counting the number of steps they take before a shot, we focussed on how we could make ourselves better which helped us execute when under pressure.”
QMC has assembled a roster accustomed to handling pressure and the ability to “connect” at both ends of the floor was evident.
“Naomi Sopoaga has been in the team since Year 9 and is an amazing performer. She’s a point guard great at controlling the tempo of our offense, dribbling, passing, and shooting.
Lauren Tewhata hit a couple of big three’s at the start which eased our nerves. She’s overcome a bit of adversity. Her ability to score is huge.
“Holly Morgan is the most competitive person I know and that’s not only on a basketball court, it’s eating lunch, in the classroom, whatever. She is amazingly fit and gritty.
Tawhirikura Doyle was the captain of our 3x3 team that won nationals. She’s like a second captain, she is an amazing hustler with great hands and claim.”
Taulelei is a power forward whose represented the Wellington Under 15 and 17 teams. The younger of those sides won a national title. That success has seen Taulelei offered scholarships for Yale, Davidson, Fordham, Hawaii, UNC, Willmington and Manhattan Universities in the USA.
“My main role is leadership, setting a good example for the younger girls so they know what to do when they have to step up and when us older girls have been and gone they can maintain the strength of the program.
“I’m a power forward and I try to get as many rebounds and be as versatile with my scoring as possible. I want to be a threat outside as well as inside.”
Her father Walter Taulelei is the CEO of Wellington basketball and Lilly described Walter as the “guardian angel of the QMC program.” Alongside Junior Hunter, Walter helped coach and manage a team that have become darlings of the college.
“We had to organise a livestream of our semi-final because there was so much interest in the result. There’s a video of one of our games where we hit a shot and it cuts to the crowd and our principal is jumping up and down. It’s a shame no one could go to the final because we would have got unbelievable support which is so humbling.”
Story by Adam Julian, for College Sport Wellington and College Sport Media, October 2021.
Corban Laban-Palmer is head prefect of Tauranga Boys’ College. Unusually he is an out of zone student, but remarkably the top five prefects in 2021 are all outside selections.
“I remember I had to have an interview to get into the school. I can’t even remember what I said, my parents did most of the talking. It was all a bit strange. I think I got in via the ballot,” Laban-Palmer recalls.
Overcoming bemusement swiftly, Laban-Palmer established a foothold in basketball. As a junior he helped Tauranga win a North Island 3x3 title and this year is captain of an undefeated senior team who recently won the Super 8 competition for the first time since 2009 in Rotorua.
It was a eureka moment for a talented team guilty of underwhelming in the recent past.
“Our build up to Super 8 was a bit dysfunctional. Some of the players were getting a bit casual because we were winning games in the local men's league easily. We had a meeting to address that and it got a bit heated.
“Our team is primarily based on last year's team. We are much stronger, more experienced. We train in the mornings, but had to have a bit of an honesty session.”
Tauranga beat Palmerston North Boys’ High School 105-84 in the final, having earlier accounted for Palmerston North 87-76 in pool play.
“The first game was a bit of an unknown for both teams. We spent the first-half getting a feel for their zone and strategy and were able to capitalise on their weaknesses in the second-half.
“In the final we played transition. We're a good shooting team who likes to play fast and move the ball. Because we knew their strengths and weaknesses from the outset we were less hesitant."
Nearest rivals Rotorua Boys' High School had reason to provide Tauranga with hesitancy in the semi-finals. On their home court they boasted a skyscraper weapon who was productive early.
“They had this huge Nigerian who was six foot nine and really hard to stop. When they started hitting outside shots too it was tough. We had to outsmart them because they were stronger, bigger and quicker than us. We moved the ball a lot, hit some shots, and our fitness got the better of them.”
The final score was 99-88 to Tauranga, their narrowest victory of the tourney. Commentator Ben O'Brien-Leaf calling the action for Sideline was most impressed with what he witnessed from Laban-Palmer.
“Corban is very quick up and down, gusty taking the ball to the basket fearlessly against all comers. His much smaller team beat Palmerston North with all-round quickness and athleticism. I thought they were magnificent.”
“I think our biggest strength is adaptability. We play men in Tauranga and do a lot of interschool exchanges which brings us into contact with lots of different styles and referees,” Laban-Palmer said.
Braydon Iueli played for the Franklin Bulls in the National Basketball League and was top points scorer at the National Under-23 championships. He’s been in commanding form for Tauranga in 2021. In addition to Super 8, Tauranga have knocked over powerful outfits like Westlake Boys’ High School, Auckland Grammar School and New Plymouth Boys’ High School. They also won the Tauranga City Basketball Association Premier Men's Competition. Their best placing at Nationals is fifth.
“Our goal is to make the top four of Nationals, but we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves. It feels like our season has only just started. Winning Super 8 was big for us.”
Sharp shooter Izaak Taula and high flyer Garth Jepsen have been other standouts this season.
The role of head boy entails serious responsibility.
“I never expected any leadership roles. I just did my own thing. Because I’m half Samaon I guess I have that respectful Samoan, manner. I just try to be true to who I am and show qualities I like in others.”
Corban grew up in Wellington before shifting to Papamoa. His father Lennie is an engineer and mother Annette is a primary school teacher. Uncle Ken Laban is a rugby commentator on Sky TV.
Tauranga Boys’ College Super 8 Results
Palmerston North BHS, 87-76
Hastings BHS, 105-72
Napier BHS, 90-68
Rotorua BHS, 99-88 (Semi)
Palmerston North BHS, 105-84 (Final)
“We never had a basketball community until a couple of years ago. We are still a young team and more and more girls want to play,” Jazz Kailahi-Fulu of St Mary’s College, Ponsonby warns rivals.
The Auckland outfit have just completed their best ever season, finishing with a 30-1 record.
St Mary’s was third at the Nationals in Palmerston North last week and won their first Auckland and Zone I regional titles.
“Our results don’t surprise me. We have worked really hard this season and had a talented team. The support of the school has been amazing and our coach Jody Cameron is really experienced. The girls know she can teach them a lot,” Kailahi-Fulu acclaimed.
Kailahi-Fulu concedes she needed plenty of teaching when she first started playing basketball at the age of 11.
“I was really bad,” she laughed.
“But I stuck at it. When I was 13, I was picked for the Harbour team that went to Nationals. I made the tournament team and I thought that was really cool.”
The accolades have continued for Kailahi-Fulu who first made a New Zealand age group team in 2017, traveling to Perth for the Australian State Championships. Last year Kailahi-Fulu was a member of the New Zealand Under 17’s at the FIBA World Championships in Belarus.
Driving the ascent of St Mary’s has been perhaps her most impressive achievement to date.
Kailahi-Fulu averaged 23.8 points per game at Nationals to lift them to their best ever finish. St Mary’s beat fierce rivals Westlake Girls’ High School 70-64 in the playoff for third with Kailahi-Fulu scoring 19 points. St Mary’s also beat Westlake in the Auckland and Zone I final.
“Westlake is a great team and have been up there for a long time. I guess we got a mental block on them this season. The first time we played them it was a really tough game and we beat them with a buzzer beater which gave us a lot of confidence,” Kailahi-Fulu observed.
St Mary’s won the Zone I final 78-70 victory with Kailahi-Fulu scoring 14 points alone in the third quarter to keep St Mary’s in the contest. She had contributed 20 points in the Auckland final where St Mary’s won 83-74. Westlake was only down by three points heading into the last two minutes.
Jazz’s sister Zaaluyah Kailahi-Fulu has been a major part of St Mary’s success too. The New Zealand Under 16 representative and Jazz have a strong relationship.
“We get on most of the time, but sometimes there is some sibling rivalry. I’m proud of my little sister,” Jazz said.
In 2020, Jazz is seeking a US scholarship and insists St Mary’s results aren’t a flash in the pan.
St Peter’s Cambridge is anything but a flash in the pan. The Waikato private school won the Nationals for the fourth time in the last five years, beating provincial rivals Hamilton Girls’ High School 78-66 in the final.
For a fourth year in a row Charlisse Leger-Walker was named tournament MVP. The Tall Ferns guard amassed 30 points, 19 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals in the decider.
Jazz and Charlisse played together at the World Under 17 championships and are friends with bright futures on and off the court.
Schick ‘AA’ Girls Tournament Team:
The ‘A’ Boys and ‘A’ Girls champions were crowned at the 2019 Schick Secondary Schools National Championships in Palmerston North on Thursday.
Te Aroha College, runners-up at last year’s Schick Nationals, again had to settle for silver losing 68-54 to Kavanagh College in the Girls ‘A’ Final.
A closely fought Boys ‘A’ Final went the way of Opunake High School, who outlasted St Kevin’s College to win 58-56.
Kavanagh made the slightly better start to the contest, edging the opening quarter 10-8 and were still ahead 18-17 midway through the second quarter.
The respective captains then made a move as Dejaan Schuler, on her way to 15 first-half points, peeled off a pair of threes for Te Aroha. Annabelle Ring knocked down a three of her own in reply, but it was Te Aroha who was happier at the break leading 29-26.
Kavanagh, with guard Annalise Wilson and all her hustle, took the reins and outscored Te Aroha 8-2 to lead 36-31 in the middle of the third. A Te Ana Barrett three was answered by Kyra McEntyre, but it was Ring who had the last say in the frame – Kavanagh led 45-40 at three-quarter time.
Kavanagh was in firm control with 4:30 to play when Dre Whaanga dropped an arching three to give her team a 56-47 lead.
Te Aroha threw everything they had at Kavanagh in the closing minutes. Dejaan Schuler (31 points and 11 rebounds) dropped her seventh three of the game but Wilson, McEntyre, Whaanga and MVP Annabelle Ring (19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks) had all the answers – each adding to their points tally to send the travelling supporters from Dunedin home with a smile.
Kavanagh Coach Gerard Mullin was delighted for his team.
“The girls wanted that one, the boys have won one before, so the girls wanted one hanging in the gym as well.
“It’s taken four or five years to get there, but all the hard work and training pays off in the end. They deserve it.
“I’d like to think Annabelle will get the MVP title, she was awesome. She had to keep fighting in that game as it wasn’t all going her way but she showed her grit, determination and belief.”
Kavanagh College 68 – A Ring 19, D Whaanga 18, K McEntyre 13/8r, A Wilson 12
Te Aroha College 54 – D Schuler 31/11r, B Schuler 10, A Nicholas 6, T Barrett 5
Officials – Logan Start and Mikayla Willis
‘A’ Girls 3rd/4th play-off game.
Tararua College 58 – S Oswald 23, L Powick 14, R Ngaruhe 9, H Ngaruhe 6
Mercury Bay Area School 85 – J McCleery 36, O Clague 22, L Murie 8, E Hinds-Senior 8
Schick ‘A’ Girls Tournament Team
Hineaupounamu Nuku – Te Kura Kōkiri
Breeje Schuler – Te Aroha College
Dejaan Schuler – Te Aroha College
Dre Whaanga - Kavanagh College
Holly McCleery – Mercury Bay Area School
Leah Powick – Tararua College
Te Ahikaa Bidois – Te Wharekura O Mauao
Olivia Clague – Mercury Bay Area School
Kyra McEntyre – Kavanagh College
‘A’ Girls Schick MVP – Annabelle Ring
Opunake had won the pool game against St Kevin’s by 20 points on the opening day of the tournament, but nine points in the opening quarter from centre Jack Andrew gave St Kev’s a 19-14 advantage at the first break.
A tight second period ensued, scores late in the half from point guard Mark Xie and Paea Fifita giving St Kevin’s a narrow 32-28 lead at the half. Kenan Sionetama led the Opunake effort at the interval with 10 points.
Andrew was soon into double-double territory as the St Kevin’s lead increased to nine points (41-32).
Joel Clement scored six straight points for Opunake and when Scott Quinnell sunk a corner three on the buzzer the St Kevin’s lead was suddenly cut to six points (49-43) going into the fourth.
The Opunake fans were in full voice when Sione Tama made a three. It was near noise deafening when Clement tied proceedings at 51 points apiece and then put his team ahead by two with five minutes to play.
The Opunake defence was smothering the St Kevin’s attacking weapons, who only managed one score in seven minutes.
Andrew finally broke the drought to lock the scores at 53 points each, but in a frantic final two minutes, when defences ruled, free-throws from Clement and Quinnell settled a thrilling contest. St Kevin’s captain Jack Souness knocked down a three as the final hooter sounded but it was too little too late for him and his team.
Opunake Coach Jeneane Taamaru felt her team’s defence got them over the line.
“Defence won the game, they were committed, they wanted it, 100% no regrets.
“It was our goal all through the season, we’ve accomplished it and I’m so proud of these young men,” added Taamaru.
Opunake High School 58 – J Clement 21, K Sionetama 13/10r, R Bloemen 7, A Hepi-Karena 6, C Taamaru 6
St Kevin’s College 56 – J Andrew 19/18r, D Cooper 11, P Fifita 10/10r, M Xie 6, J Souness 6
Officials – Brendan Douglas and Samuel Roberts
‘A’ Boys 3rd/4th play-off game
Manukura 54 – S Brown 24, K Millar 12, T Richmond 8
Mana College 81 – L Ware 24, W Wana 17, K Hippolite 16, N Salmon 11
Schick ‘A’ Boys Tournament Team
Jack Andrews – St Kevin’s College
Manaaki Kaumoana – Te Aroha College
Tetuhikiterangi Lewis – Ngā Taiātea Wharekura
Ahurei Hepi-Karena – Opunake High School
Levi Ware – Mana College
Mosiah McDonald – Manukura
Paea Fifita – St Kevin’s College
Kawharu Hippolite – Mana College
Regan Bloemen – Opunake High School
‘A’ Girls Schick MVP – Joel Clement
The semi-final matchups were also decided in the Schick Nationals ‘AA’ Tournament on Thursday with defending champions Rosmini College and St Peter’s School, Cambridge, still on track in the defence of their titles.
St Peter’s School, Cambridge, will face Westlake Girls High School in one girls semi-final while St Mary’s College, Ponsonby will take on Hamilton Girls High School in the other semi.
St Kentigern College faces Mt Albert Grammar School in an all Auckland boys semi-final with Rosmini College to meet Cashmere High School in the other matchup.
‘AA’ Girls Quarter-Final results
St Peter’s School, Cambridge 83 – A Paewai 18, E Bradley 10, C Leger-Walker 10, D Stephens 8, L Vaetoe 6
Christchurch Girls’ High School 33 – I Luhetoa 6, A Peterson 6, M Faitaua-Nanai 5
St Mary’s College, Ponsonby 60 – J Kailahi-Fulu 19, Z Kailahi-Fulu 10, S Te Nana-Williams 8, R Matiseni 7
Manukura 55 – H Stanshall 23, R Fourie 15, H Coleman 9
Sacred Heart Girls’ College, New Plymouth 71 – C O’Connell 24, R Sampson 14, I Cook 10, G Walsh 9
Hamilton Girls’ High School 74 – R Walker-Pitman 20, K Leith 18, K Lewis 17, Q Walker-Eketone 11
Queen Margaret College 76 – P Lokotui 20, T Sopoaga 19, R Tawera 14, L Taulelei 9
Westlake Girls’ High School 78 – E Shearer 18, J Moors 17, J Maddix 15, P Manolas 11
‘AA’ Boys Quarter-Final results
St Kentigern College 94 – S Broughton 38, M Gan 17, L Kerr 17, K Evans 12, E Watson 10
Westlake Boys’ High School 78 – S Mennenga 24, J Kooiman 24, R Natusch 11, J Wuthrich 8
Rangitoto College 56 – H Payne 21, L Judd 10, Z Riley 9, J Thornton 8
Mt Albert Grammar School 68 – N Wilson 19, S Tawera 13, P Sorensen 10, D Elia 7
Rosmini College 64 – C Bush 22, J Murphy 11, T Kendon 8
Napier Boys’ High School 57 – T Murray 22, S Murphy 16, R Maxwell-Topia 10,
Cashmere High School 110 – T Webley 50, L Oskam 23, F Barclay 15, L Williams 13
Tauranga Boys’ College 97 – K Harema 26, J McManaway 21, B Iuli 17, J Preston 11
The 2019 ‘AA’ NZSS Basketball Championships begin next Monday (September 30th) with 24 teams contesting both the Boys and Girls Tournaments.
Nayland College finished sixth in the Zone 4 Boys qualifying tournament over Winter Tournament Week and will be at Nationals for the first time in five years.
Nayland are in Pool A, alongside Zone 1 champions Saint Kenitgern College, Napier Boys’ High School, Zone 4 winners Middleton Grange School, Gisborne Boys’ High School and Mount Albert Grammar School. View the full tournament draw HERE
Nayland College coach Sam Dempster has provided some insight into the team ahead of their trip over the Cook Straight to Palmerston North next week.
School: Nayland College
Coaches: Sam Dempster, Craig Shephard, Corban Christie and Andrew Stevens
Captain: Tysxun Aiolupotea
Team Members: Tysxun Aiolupotea, Troy Wilson, Max McCarthy, Tyler Herbert, Kaha Toitaha, Vojta Bednar, Jordan Garea, Max McGeady, Brodie Seelen, Ollie Walker, Travis Fleming and Phaze-Raku Dry
NZSS AA basketball tournament history: This is the first time Nayland has qualified for Secondary school Nationals in five years. In 2013 we placed eighth at nationals, and before that the best Nayland has ever achieved is 4th on two different occasions.
What’s it going to take for your school to do well in Palmerston North?
We pride ourselves on our great culture in our team, we need to stay together and work hard. We are very small so we need to play a fast paced game and knock down our outside shots. Our rebounding has been a big work on since the South Island tournament and will be a key skill for us to improve to compete at Nationals.
What local/regional competitions has your school played in this year?
We compete in the Men’s A grade, this year we had ups and downs. We lost to a team by 50 points at the start of the year, three months later we played them again and beat them by 20 points. This was a huge achievement and a huge compliment to the hard work the team has put in over the year.
Tell us about a big game in your recent Zone tournament that helped you qualify for the NZSS AA nationals?
A highlight for us was beating Nelson College. After not beating them all year we came together and played a great team game to beat them when it counted and this was a huge highlight. Beating King’s High School to cement our spot at Nationals was a very special moment for us after not qualifying for 5 years.
What’s the age and experience make-up of your team?
We have 6 year 13 students, only 2 of which have been to a national tournament before (age groups). We have 1 year 12 student and 4 year 11 students. We do not have a lot of experience at top level tournaments however having a tough pool and a challenging quarter-final game at South Islands was a good chance for us to gain much needed experience.
What’s the strength of your team?
Definitely our culture, we have a great group of young men that have a genuine care for each other and each of them focus on doing what is best for the team. We have 12 guys that work hard for each other and put the team before themselves.
Individually, Tysxun Aiolupotea (Team Captain) has excelled this year being selected as a non-travelling reserve for the NZ U18 3x3 team. He was also selected as one of 24 Highschool students selected to attend the Steven Adams Invitational camp (top 24 Highschool students in New Zealand). He also was a member of the Nelson Giants for the second year. A player to watch in the future!
Does your team have a motto?
“Hard work will always beat talent when Talent fails to work hard”.
Who are the individuals in your team that are successful in other sports?
Max McGeady – He is going straight from basketball nationals to Australia where he will represent NZ in Volleyball.
What other support has your team received to get to allow it to operate at the level it does?
We have been extremely blessed with community support. We have raised nearly $6000 on a give-a-little page, we also have received donations from local businesses.
It has been amazing the way the Nelson Community has got behind the team, for all of the support the boys are extremely appreciative.
This trip would not be possible without our amazing community support!
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