Basketball: Young Kiwi gets invaluable experience

By Mike Lacey

Hakim Warrick of Melbourne United takes a rebound as Chris Goulding looks on. Photo / Getty Images
Hakim Warrick of Melbourne United takes a rebound as Chris Goulding looks on. Photo / Getty Images

As Melbourne United's season came to an end at the hands of the Breakers recently so did the first full time professional basketball assignment for Tohi Smith-Milner.

The West Aucklander has been a development player with the Australian NBL Minor Premiers this season, an experience he has thoroughly enjoyed.

"Learning bits and pieces off the likes of Hakim Warrick who has played in the NBA for so many seasons (eight to be exact), from Daniel Kickert who is probably one of the best shooters in the League right now, learning parts of their game's and trying to put it into mine has been so good."

Smith-Milner's basketball prowess first came to national prominence in 2011 when as a 15-year-old he played a major role in Rosmini College's NZ Secondary Schools National Championship winning campaign.

Following school he was scheduled to attend the University of New Mexico but instead attended Polk State Junior College, Florida due to university academic ineligibility.

The forward averaged 12.8pts, 6.5rebs, and 1.4 blocks for Polk State but decided to embark on his professional career after a single season.

Not renowned as the most disciplined trainer Smith-Milner admits the demands of fulltime basketball initially presented a challenge.

"When I first got to Melbourne it was a bit tough but the more I got into it, the more I worked at it, the better I got. I've improved my game and I am just loving it right now."

8 kilograms lighter Smith-Milner has benefitted playing and training alongside the quality players in the Melbourne ranks.

Many had expected the 20-year-old to return to New Zealand to play in the 2016 Bartercard NBL having played the last couple of seasons for the Super City Rangers. However Smith-Milner will continue his development in Australia.

"I'm trying to sort out a SEABL team to play for, most likely in Melbourne, so I can keep working out with Adam Johansen and the other United coaches. There is a lot more opportunity in Australia with a lot more teams and with one of the NBL teams (Manawatu Jets) in New Zealand pulling out there are fewer spots for players right now."

When the next ANBL season begins in October Smith-Milner hopes to be back with United.

"Obviously the main goal is to get a roster spot in the next one or two years. I want to keep improving like I think I have done since I have been there, working out with the coaches, getting in the weight room and practicing with great players."

The one game Tall Black hopes in the future to add to his sole international cap, earned against South Korea in Tauranga in 2014, but for now he is focused on developing his game in Melbourne.

- NZ Herald

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