Last weekend 39 basketball teams, made up of almost 470 under 17 year olds from around New Zealand, converged on North Shore Events Centre to play for the National Under 17 Championships.

This week two more National basketball championships tip-off, the Under 15s in Wellington and the Under 19s in Nelson. These events bring the New Zealand basketball community together, with friends, family, volunteers, players and others to the event.

During the Under 17s Mike Lacey talked to some on the personalities at the event, as an insight to the people involved in what's one of the big provincial competitions on the basketball calendar.

Tom Cowie - Player


A basketball schedule of 15 games in 15 days is one that is not even forced upon NBA stars. However that is the programme that Southland guard Tom Cowie was working through while at the Under 17s while representing Southland.

Cowie, like a number of the other athletes that attended the Under 17 National Championships, is also member of the New Zealand Under 16 National team. That team attended the Australian Under 16 State Championships in Melbourne a week earlier, arriving back in New Zealand three days before the Under 17s tipped-off..

After a fleeting trip back to Invercargill, Cowie repacked, said hi to family, then returned to Auckland a day early to prepare for a title at a National title with his Southland team.

The combo guard was one of the standout players in the New Zealand team that finished a creditable fifth at the recent Australian State Champs. He finished second on the three-point shooting percentage list in the tournament statistics with a highly efficient 46% (18/39). He was also third on the assists list dishing an average 4.4 dimes per game.

At the Under 17s Cowie's Southland team finished a credible fifth, with Cowie scoring double digits in every game he played.

Nixon Penese and Luana Penese - Coach and Manager

Nixon Penese and Luana Penese were the coach and manager respectively of the Wellington Girls Under 17 team.

There is nothing unusual you might think in a husband and wife combination looking after a basketball team.

Then you find they are also equally as involved in the basketball programme at St Mary's College in Wellington. It also emerges that they run the Porirua Heat Basketball Club.

This commitment to basketball comes on top of caring for their five children who needless to say have inherited their parents love for the game.

The four eldest daughters all play for Wellington representative teams. Saria, a current member of the Junior Tall Ferns, plays for the Under 19's. Nataliah (U17's), Lylah (U15's) and Ailani (U13's) also don the black and gold singlet.

Penese says that her and Nixon met through basketball when they were still at high school.

"Nixon played high school basketball in American Samoa and I played in Hawaii at High School, that was a common interest."

Before long the two had started a family of their own.

"As our eldest daughter came of age we decided to contribute to her development by coaching. Nixon has four coaching roles this year - Unde17's, St Mary's Senior A, Las Vegas U16, and we also run our own basketball club.

"I think the attraction to basketball for Nixon and I is to see our girls develop in a sport we are passionate about. They will obtain great memories, experience team bonding and winning experiences.

"Not only is it a great sport but it teaches you many life skills and we always tell everyone that basketball is our religion.

"The drive is to not only see our girls, but their friends who love the sport, develop."

A small reward for the Penese family was to see Saria put on the black singlet when debuting for the Junior Tall Ferns

"We were more proud than you know. Very proud, not just for us but for her grandparents, aunties and uncles and the whole family. A privilege."

It doesn't require much imagination to guess which sport four year old Leona will be playing when she gets a little older.

Hina Fowler and her daughter Samantha - Volunteers

Hina Fowler and her daughter Samantha travelled up to Auckland from Hamilton for four days just to act as volunteer score bench officials for the tournament.

Hina has a strong association with the Central Country basketball region after growing up in Te Kuiti and being immersed in the region's basketball programmes. Her daughter, 19 year old Samantha, didn't play a lot of basketball when she was younger but has got involved as a volunteer in the last two or three years to "see more of mum."

After some time out due to illness Hina has returned to an active role in the game, "Because I love the game, I have the time and have missed the involvement with the basketball community.

"It was an absolute buzz to be involved with the Under 17 Nationals and we look forward to the next opportunity."

Dave Bublitz - Coach

New Plymouth Boys High School teacher Dave Bublitz is coach of the Taranaki Under 17 Boys team.

The father of two has spent most of the last month away from his wife Sally and children to oversee the well-being and playing fortunes of not just the Taranaki team, but also the New Zealand Under 16 Boys team. So what makes the Director of Sport at NPBHS take all this on?

"The attraction is that I played from a young age and then I went away and played at university before moving into coaching.

"I coached the University Women's team and then moved back and began coaching at Boys High basketball. I got involved after returning from the UK. Other opportunities have arisen. The first was the Mountain Airs Assistant Coaching job in the NBL. After a year of being an assistant (and three of being with the school team) the coach left and they offered me the full time job which I did.

"From there Dave Mackay rang me and asked if I wanted to be involved with the U18 National team - the year of Tai Wynyard, Freeman, Timmins. The U16's have followed the last two years," he added.

As a professional teacher Bublitz says he's well aware of the benefits that are offered to young people through sport.

"I think there are important learnings for boys and girls through what is taught in any sport - hard work, dedication, working with others. Sport in general is pretty important and for a state boys school - boys need something to feel proud of. Often what they're most proud of at school, while education is the most important, the feel-good factor you get from being involved in successful teams can help them in their education as they feel more engaged in class. Giving them the opportunity to compete and excel, succeed and putting them in positions where they can compete at the highest level."

Bublitz is delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in the New Zealand programme.

"Representing NZ as a youngster is something that I never did but to be able to do it as a coach is something that I am very proud of. To help the boys, and see them grow and see the pride that they feel when they put on the black jersey is really cool. Hopefully the team we have right now will have an opportunity to get to the World Championships - it really is an exciting opportunity for the 17s group from last year."