US bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship dream

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - By KRIS DANDO

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.

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