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Meeting the Breakers an eye-opening experience for young players

Thirty-five young Hawke’s Bay basketball players will have an eye-opening experience today when they meet the NZ Breakers before the NBL team take on the Perth Wildcats in Auckland.

Players from the Paul Henare & Paora Winitana Basketball Academy will sit courtside and attend the Breakers pre-game practice in the Academy’s latest ‘eye opening experience’ (EOE).

General Manager of the Academy and former Tall Black, Paora Winitana says, “Our Academy EOEs are about putting our young people in a professional environment so they can meet the people and see the opportunities that are real and available to them if they’re committed, work hard and stay focused.”

As well as sitting courtside and attending the pre-game practice, the players will receive a personal tour of the Breakers training facility, train with the Breakers Academy and have a leadership workshop with the coaches and players, including Breakers coach and Academy founder, Paul Henare.

“For most of our players meeting the Breakers will be a first. To get encouragement and inspiration from those that they look up to is huge,” says Paora.

“Our focus is about preparing Hawke’s Bay youth for life’s challenges whether they go on to become elite basketball players or not. Basketball is just the tool we use to do that,” says Paora.

One excited young player is Rongo Maaka (13) from Flaxmere who says he joined the Academy to not only help his future, but to help him become a better person every day.

"I’ve learned how to be a leader which helps me stay positive – basketball helps me to be a team player and to encourage people to do their best. I hope to play in America one day and to go to college,” says Rongo.

Rongo says the Academy has had a big impact on him and he has learned many lessons including the Academy Honour Code, how to karakia and team calls like, ‘there is no I in team, but there is in family’.

The player he most looks up to in the Breakers is Paul Henare, “I can’t wait to meet our coach Paul Henare and Kirk Penny. Paul’s from home and has a big heart for his team, and he is awesome at making his players ready for the game,” Rongo says.

From this trip, Rongo says he hopes to learn more skills and to understand what it’s like to be a professional basketballer.

Unison supports The Wharariki Trust who partner with the Academy to create positive pathways for Flaxmere youth and young adults. Students in the Academy attend training sessions twice a week from February to mid-November and must adhere to a values-based code of honour.

Contracting chief executive, Charles Kaka says, “Values like excellence, integrity and team work are taught at the Academy and reflect our core values. These behaviours don’t just happen, it takes commitment, training and dedication.”

The latest EOE was partially subsidised.

Paora says, “Our biggest challenge is funding these experiences. Some of our families simply can’t afford it especially with Christmas around the corner. So to get financial support from the Wharariki Trust and Unison as well as other local Hawke’s Bay businesses is a blessing. This directly helps our families who might not otherwise be able to go.”

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