Basketball: Chance meeting opens door for Waardenburg

Sam Waardenburg makes a block at the National Secondary Schools tournament. Photo / Supplied
Sam Waardenburg makes a block at the National Secondary Schools tournament. Photo / Supplied

A chance meeting at a Melbourne basketball camp in June has catapulted Kiwi teen Sam Waardenburg all the way to sunny Miami.

Waardenburg, 17, was taking part in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program when the power forward made the acquaintance of Boston Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga.

Larranaga, who also coaches Ukraine, was so impressed by the Rangitoto College student that he got on the phone to father Jim, the acclaimed University of Miami coach.

The rest, according to Waardenburg, is history.

The young Aucklander signed a scholarship at the Floridian university in early September and intends to head stateside in the northern winter.

He'll redshirt for a semester before starting his freshman year in May, majoring in his favourite subject of geography.

The University of Miami finished equal second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2015/16 and host one of the strongest basketball programs at the college level.

"Over a few months we had constant communication and then I wanted to go and visit," Waardenburg told NZN.

"It felt like Miami was the place I wanted to be."

In the meantime, the 205cm Waardenburg will look to learn as much as possible in the NZ Breakers environment, where he is a development player.

Skipper Mika Vukona serves as a particular source of inspiration for Waardenburg as a power forward and frequently pulls him aside to offer tips.

Senior stars like Tom Abercrombie and Kirk Penney also help wherever possible.

Waardenburg said he'd jump at the opportunity to pull on the Breakers singlet before he leaves if given the chance.

But for now he was just looking to test himself against New Zealand's best.

"It's kind of like off-season for me, so to play against the men, get some experience, get some muscle on me," Waardenburg said.

"I'm just going hard in every training, learning from everyone, building those relationships for the future."

Waardenburg also just guided Rangitoto College to the national secondary schools title, at which he was named tournament MVP.

The North Shore school won the final 82-80 via a Cameron Stone long-range buzzer-beater against Palmerston North Boys High.

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