Mika Vukona has made his mark as one of New Zealand's finest basketballers with his heroic deeds for the NZ Breakers and the Tall Blacks.
But the 31-year-old power forward has never forgotten his years growing up in Tauranga, where he arrived with his family from Fiji as a shy 5-year-old.
The former Bethlehem Primary and Bethlehem College pupil, who showed potential with Tauranga age-group rep teams, will captain the Tall Blacks against well-performed South Korea at Tauranga's top class ASB Arena on July 17.
The three-test series is part of the Tall Blacks' preparation for the Basketball World Cup in Spain this August.
Vukona said he was looking forward to coming home with the Tall Blacks.
"I think it is massive, especially with the facilities of the ASB Arena," Vukona said.
"I was able to be part of the Breakers team that came a couple of years ago and the experience there was awesome. To bring out the Tall Blacks in Tauranga will be a great opportunity and we will try and get as much support as we can going into the world champs."
The Tall Blacks have drawn the US and Turkey in pool C, who fought out the last world cup final.
Playing against the best players in the world was what every New Zealand ball player dreamed of, said Vukona.
"I am excited. When the draw came out, everyone in the Tall Blacks was beaming from ear to ear. You always want to put markers against how well you play. What better people to do it against than LeBron James, Dwight Howard ... those kind of guys."
Tauranga City Basketball general manager Mark Rogers said the test match would be a huge economic boost for the city and reflected the increasing popularity of basketball in the Western Bay.
"We're very excited to have a homegrown player of Mika's calibre coming back to Tauranga. We are grateful for the efforts put in by TECT to bring the event to our city," Rogers said.
"Our vision, I suppose, is that we are going to see more people here like Mika who can play for the Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns. Part of our plan is to expand our pathway to make sure that they get the opportunities in Tauranga to do that."
Be in to win
The Bay of Plenty Times has two double passes to the NZ v South Korea game at the ASB Arena on July 17, 7.30pm. For a chance to win a double pass, email your name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Basketball" in the subject line by July 2.