Mike Karena wasnt the name on everyones lips when the time came to announce the Tall Blacks team to tour Asia and Europe in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Qualifiers, but the quietly spoken 22 year old is doing all the right things so far on tour for a team that is missing some of their more recognizable bigs in the touring party.
Karena enjoyed a strong campaign with the Canterbury side in the New Zealand NBL, coming in halfway through and helping drive the Rams to the play-offs for the first time and win their first minor premiership since 1993. That form alerted Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare to the possibility of adding depth to the stocks of big men in the game in New Zealand, and when Alex Pledger made himself unavailable, Karenas stocks rose.
"It has been pretty cool, a different culture and playing alongside some of the best players in the country, it has been a good experience. I feel like I am a rookie again, coming from College where you are a senior in the group and basically going to a new level and feeling like the kid in the group again, it is great to have people like Mika and Tom around to teach you how to get to the next level and what it takes to compete."
Henare has certainly been impressed, with four days of training in Japan and two live scrimmages against the Japanese national team, Henare had this to say about Karena when musing over the four new players to this level (Finn Delany, Ethan Rusbatch and Derone Raukawa being the others).
"I dont like to but if I was to single out a guy, Mike Karena has been the surprise package for me, the physicality and inside presence that he is giving us right now - which is something that has been talked about in the media in recent times, he has been doing that and is playing at a higher level right now than he was in the NBL. But while I single out Mike, all of them have done really well."
Karena is Christchurch born but spent his formative years in Nelson, attending Nelson College and learning his game in what is a hot bed of the sport here in New Zealand. Karena then secured a scholarship to the United States, spending the past couple of years at Wright University in Dayton Ohio, before returning to finish the season with the Rams.
Karena has completed his degree, majoring in Organizational leadership, and is looking to complete a Masters in Business over the next 5 to 10 years.
"I will see how everything goes now I am in this type of basketball world and what opportunities come my way. I will work out how much time I have, but if I do have time I will definitely work on my Masters. I started playing basketball late, not until I was 14, but once I got into it I picked it up quickly, I was in a good programme in Nelson and one thing led to another and options opened up."
Karena wasnt expecting to be on this tour, by his own admission the call up came a little out of the blue, but he is not one to waste too many opportunities and is determined to make the most of the chance he has been given.
"I was a little surprised to be named in the team, I didnt know what to expect or what the level would be like. For me it is a learning curve for sure, right now I am focused on the tour and trying to push my way through. If anything happens after I will look at that, but for now it is one task at a time. For me staying on this tour as long as possible is important, it is not every day you are surrounded by the countrys best players, players who have competed against the best in the world."
- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand