US basketball scholarship dream
Jamal Mikaio was always going to be a basketballer with a first name like that.
Named after the dynamic Jamal Mashburn, of Charlotte Hornets and Dallas Mavericks’ fame in the 1990s and 2000s, Porirua’s Jamal is even a small forward out on the court like his namesake.
The 16-year-old from Ascot Park, a year 11 student at St Pat’s Town, is not long back from a school tournament in Palmerston North.
He’s not keen to go into the specifics of how his team fared, since they were underwhelming, but in the back of his mind Mikaio knows he has already done the work and will soon represent his country for the first time.
After a number of national camps, surviving the culling of players at each step, he has made the 12-strong Emerging Junior Tall Blacks squad for the Oceania under-17 world qualifying series against Australia.
The three-test series in Canberra, beginning this Thursday, will decide who represents Oceania at the world championships in Lithuania next year.
Mikaio, a Wellington rep for the past four years, knows he and his team-mates will be up against it, with the Aussie team featuring players who are already being scouted by United States universities.
‘‘They’re going to be strong and physical players, we know that. Australia has a great basketball programme and a lot of talent. They eat, sleep and play basketball at the Australian Institute of Sport, so we just have to be composed and play for each other.
‘‘We have a good squad but we’ll definitely be underdogs: there’s a lot to prove.’’
Being a small forward, Mikaio does a lot of work out on the court, dribbling inside to score or create chances for team-mates on offence, then muscling up against the best shooters and ball-carriers on defence.
He has a couple of rivals for the starting New Zealand spot and says it can be hard, since they are all mates at this level, but he wants to be out there to show off all the work he is doing.
This consists of basketball practice five days a week, commuting into Wellington well before school starts so he can train. Then there’s fitness and strength work, on top of schoolwork.
Mum Michelle says St Pat’s pushes him hard in his studies, often emailing him work if he’s away at tournaments, and there is the expectation Mikaio hits the books before and after practice.
‘‘Everyone’s in the same boat; we all [St Pat’s, Wellington and New Zealand players] help each other out,’’ Mikaio says of the demands of NCEA.
Mikaio wants to tread a path many talented young basketballers do, snagging a scholarship to play at a US university.
For now, however, his immediate focus is Australia and helping his team get to the world champs.
Hoop dreams: Ascot Park’s Jamal Mikaio, only 16 but already well over six feet tall, has basketball in the blood, with his father playing premier basketball league in Wellington for many years.