The growing appetite for basketball at St Peter’s College is palpable.
“It’s crazy. If you walk around the school at lunchtime everyone is playing basketball - rugby players, hockey players and even the chess boys,” Whititera Parata enthuses.
It hasn’t always been that way at the Auckland catholic school. In fact Parata, a member of the First V since Year 9, often played three games a week to prop up other sides.
St Peter’s are no longer standing on wobbly ground. Competing in the Premier division for the first time, St Peter’s have toppled national powerhouses Rangitoto College and Auckland Grammar School in the space of three days.
On Friday, St Peter’s tamed reigning Auckland champions and 2017 National runners-up Rangitoto College 80-60. Two days later neighbours Auckland Grammar School were pipped 75-72. Grammar won the Auckland round-robin last year.
“We honestly have no clue. In basketball you can’t be perfect, but we didn’t execute anything and totally underperformed,” Parata rues when reflecting on Premier qualifying 12 months ago.
St Peter’s expected to make the top flight, but bombed again which was a familiar story.
“It’s been a long journey to the Premiers. I remember in 2014 we lost to Onehunga High School by two points to miss out, but last year was definitely the hardest loss to take because we had the team to be in the top grade,” Parata complains.
St Peter’s breezed through the second division dropping just a solitary game and scoring a record number of points in winning the final against Avondale College. A change in the qualifying system meant St Peter’s were automatically in the top eight in 2018.
St Peter’s proved their Premier credentials on May 18 when they overpowered Rangitoto. St Peter’s led 43-26 at halftime and grew their margin by fulltime with skipper Parata top scoring with 23 points, including 10 in the final quarter.
“It was special to get that first win especially after the Westlake loss where we didn’t play very well. We are collective team. We have no stars, but hustle for every loose ball and encourage guys to take open shots,” Parata observes.
Parata (a 6 ft 5, 110 kg power forward) was more subdued against Auckland Grammar School. Hampered by illness he only scored nine points, but a combined 47 points from Phoenix Leupolu (27) and Luke Buckingham (20) lifted St Peter’s to a memorable win.
“It was wonderful. Grammar had beaten Westlake so we had to fight the whole game to come out on top. It was close at halftime, but we managed to open up a large lead in the third quarter. Predictably Grammar came back, but we kept our composure,” Parata acclaims.
St Peter’s are being coached by Leyton Haddleton and Ray Thompson. The experienced duo are working wonders.
“We are training four times a week with two strength and conditioning sessions in the morning. I couldn’t play four quarters last year, but now I find it fairly easy. Fitness is a big part of our success. We are a team that can’t switch off,” Parata reveals.
In addition to basketball the cheerful Parata has competed in Kapa Haka, Polyfest and holds down a part time job at Burger Fuel.
St Peter’s have little time to rest on their laurels. This Friday they face Saint Kentigern College who beat Westlake Boys’ High School in the third round 94-84 on the back of 32 points from Max Shorter.
Elsewhere in Round 3, Rangitoto slumped to their third consecutive defeat when they were beaten 88-74 by Mount Albert Grammar School.
National champions Rosmini College are the only unbeaten school after thrashing Avondale College 108-77. New Zealand U17 guard Kruz Perrott-Hunt top scored with 34 points and is averaging well over 20 points per game.
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