Some of Rotorua's most promising young basketball players have made their mark on the world stage with a tournament win in China.
A string of victories over tough international opposition earned the Rotorua team top spot at the Xinma-Qianjiang Cup, International High School Basketball Tournament earlier this month.
The eight-strong squad was made up of six players from Rotorua Boys' High School, and one each from John Paul College and Te Koutu.
Steering them to victory was Darrell Pene, Reg Norton, and Rotorua Boys' High coach Mark Elers. The tour group also included familiar Rotorua faces such as district councillor Trevor Maxwell.
Elers yesterday described the challenges faced by the team on their cup-winning run.
"It was quite intense actually. We're not used to playing in front of 600 or 700 people, and the way the games went, they were evenly matched."
Teams from Africa, Oceania and China competed at the tournament, with players' ages ranging between 14 to 22.
Elers said the Rotorua team were all between 15 and 18, and their experience had meant "playing the older men wasn't new to them".
"It was a bit more physical, but they were able to cope," he said.
"I think we performed really well as a team. The luxury was having six players that already played together at Boys' High."
One of those players was the coach's son, Logan Elers, who was named in the Junior Tall Blacks squad last year.
The biggest challenge in China came right at the death, in a nail-biting final game against a strong Chinese Taipei side.
Following narrow wins in their previous games, the Rotorua side knew their championship hopes depended on victory.
"The hosts moved our last game to the end of the day, because they thought it was going to be the decider," said Elers.
A topsy-turvy contest saw the lead switch back and forth multiple times between the teams. With 1.2 seconds left on the clock, Rotorua were ahead 80-78.
After a last-ditch time-out called by Chinese Taipei, Rotorua were penalised on a technical foul. Hearts were in Kiwi mouths as the Taipei shooter stepped up for two free throws.
Both missed the net; 1.2 seconds later, Rotorua knew they were champions.
"It was probably the most drama-filled game I have been involved in as a coach," said Elers.
Playing in a tournament more than 9600km away from home, the team might not have expected to receive much in the way of crowd support.
But after the final game, Elers and his players discovered parts of the crowd had been cheering "New Zealand, New Zealand" in Chinese.
"The crowd was actually on our side ... it was a great feeling," said Elers.
"All the players were mobbed afterwards ... they were treated like superstars pretty much."
That adulation - however temporary - was more than deserved, said their coach.
Logan Elers, Mikaere Watene, Patrick Robertson, Te Awanui Waaka, Terrell Wichman, Tamakari Vercoe-Kameta (RBHS), Alex Norton (JPC) and Te Maire van der Leden (Te Koutu)