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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