Pi­o­neer­ing bas­ket­ball star Pene Hip­po­lite talks about con­tro­ver­sial coach John Dy­b­vig, be­ing homesick in the United States and have to miss her sis­ter’s wed­ding.

To Kris Dando

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORTS FEATURE -

How big was bas­ket­ball for you grow­ing up?

I’m from the pa [Taka­puwahia] and it was al­ways a big sport among my fam­ily when I was young. Be­ing a Mor­mon, there was al­ways a bas­ket­ball court nearby, ei­ther in­side or out­side. Could be an Amer­i­can thing. For me, it was al­ways about hockey and bas­ket­ball, with touch [rugby] and soft­ball com­ing along later. What was Porirua like back then?

It was fun and safe. Kids in the neigh­bour­hood would play out­side un­til our moth­ers shouted from the doorstep to come in. If there wasn’t a meal at home, there was al­ways one at a house nearby. I was one of nine broth­ers and sis­ters. Seven of us still live close to the pa to­day – I’m in Ti­tahi Bay, which is far enough away, but close enough, if you know what I mean. When did you start mak­ing rep bas­ket­ball sides?

You have to re­mem­ber that, for play­ers from my time, there was New Zealand un­der-21s and there was the se­nior side. That was it. Th­ese days you have na­tional teams for ev­ery age from about 13. What was it about the game that grabbed you?

I was quiet as a kid and it was a chance for me to re­ally ex­press my­self. I found that with all the sports I played. When did the time come to choose be­tween hockey and bas­ket­ball?

I was in my early 20s and it be­came too hard to do both, so it was more a tim­ing thing. Was there a Porirua side at na­tional club level in the 1980s?

Yes, we al­ways seemed able to put to­gether a team, ex­cept one year and a group of us played for Welling­ton. You played soft­ball and touch rugby to a high level?

I played soft­ball for Welling­ton and was lucky enough to be in a team with [ New Zealand rep­re­sen­ta­tive] Rita Fa­tialofa, which was a huge high­light. I guess when you’re young you can keep go­ing and go­ing. I’ve re­cently had a knee op­er­a­tion, but the worst I had when I was play­ing was a sprained an­kle. The touch rugby just sort of hap­pened. What was the en­vi­ron­ment like for bas­ket­ball at New Zealand level?

I played a hand­ful of games for the un­der-21s and the se­nior team and we were coached by John Dy­b­vig. I loved hav­ing him as a coach. He was the sort of guy you loved or hated and I thought he was great. He was ahead of his time and I was re­ally dis­ap­pointed when he got shown the door. It was a mis­take to let him go, but he wasn’t po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. Did you play much over­seas for New Zealand?

We had a cou­ple of games in Australia, but there was a league that had games in New Zealand against the likes of Eng­land, Australia and even Guam. It was great be­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment. Did you go to a US uni­ver­sity to play?

I was scouted by a guy who came to New Zealand and ended up go­ing to a ju­nior col­lege in Santa Maria in my early 20s. But I only lasted two months be­cause I was lonely and homesick. It was a beau­ti­ful place and the peo­ple were won­der­ful, but I missed my fam­ily too much. I’ve never lived any­where else but Porirua. Do bas­ket­ballers to­day have more op­por­tu­ni­ties?

Ab­so­lutely. You can be a pro­fes­sional now and you only have to look at the likes of Brook Rus­coe and Jor­dan Mills. New Zealand seems to get the chance to play at world cham­pi­onships and the Olympic Games far more than when I was play­ing. It’s great for the sport in this coun­try. Are you still a point guard?

I play for a masters team that gets to­gether ev­ery two years and plays tour­na­ments in Wan­ganui and on the Gold Coast. Some of the team are in Australia, but we’re a bunch of Porirua girls who like to get to­gether. It’s very so­cial, but get­ting out on the court things can turn quite se­ri­ous. How suc­cess­ful has Porirua been at bas­ket­ball?

Very suc­cess­ful for our size. We con­sis­tently pro­duce teams that win na­tional ti­tles and the sport has a good pres­ence in the city. Is Porirua a good place to host bas­ket­ball?

Te Rau­paraha Arena is a fan­tas­tic fa­cil­ity and so many teams come here and re­alise what a beau­ti­ful city we have. A Tahi­tian team came here re­cently and I had din­ner with some of them at Aotea Lodge and they were say­ing we live in par­adise. This is from peo­ple who live in Tahiti! Get­ting off bas­ket­ball for a minute, where did you go to col­lege and what work did you do af­ter leav­ing school?

I went to Mana Col­lege, where ev­ery­one from this side of Porirua went. Af­ter school I had a few jobs, bought some prop­erty, and worked for New Zealand De­fence Force in the old Hous­ing NZ build­ing for 15 years. Do you coach much?

I don’t have a team I coach to­day, but I help out here and there. I love com­ing to watch when I can at the arena, be­cause it’s joy­ful to see th­ese young kids lov­ing the game I love. My prob­lem was that I was quiet as a player but talk too much as a coach.

I had to give it up be­cause I won’t shut up! But you had some suc­cess?

About 10 years ago, my nephew knocked on my door and said, ‘Aunty Pene, can you coach our team?’ I asked him how many play­ers there were and he said four – not a good start. We got a team to­gether, all un­der 15 and mostly from the pa. We were thrashed all over the place to start, but th­ese young men stayed to­gether and we won two na­tional un­der-19 ti­tles and one na­tional un­der-21 ti­tle. They were fan­tas­tic play­ers. I also coached a group of girls to a na­tional ti­tle. Your tough­est op­po­nent as a player?

Prob­a­bly [ Porirua coach and ad­min­is­tra­tor] Deslea Wrathall, who played for an Auck­land side we used to come up against. She was tough, like Dil­lon Boucher is for the Break­ers. Some­times you felt you could never get away from her and she never seemed to run out of puff. Can you re­mem­ber the most points you scored in a game?

One night, play­ing for my Porirua team when I was in my 20s, I scored a lot. It was more than 50. I re­mem­ber it be­cause there were two cars of play­ers go­ing into Welling­ton and one broke down. Luck­ily the other car had four play­ers in it and we roped in the driver to play. We must’ve been play­ing the Blind In­sti­tute or some­thing for me to score like I did that night. Will bas­ket­ball al­ways be your No 1 sport?

Yes. I missed my sis­ter’s wed­ding be­cause I had a game to play, so that tells you some­thing. I made the re­cep­tion.

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