School children were waiting outside Motion Entertainment in Rotorua at 5.45am today, to be the first through the doors to meet the Tall Blacks.
"They had come from Putāruru and they were here in the freezing cold," Motion Entertainment national brand and sales manager Julia Manklelow said.
A total of 600 students packed the centre until 9am.
They came from South Waikato to Te Puke, and everywhere in between.
"We found out three weeks ago that the Tall Blacks would be coming. There are eight players here," Manklelow said.
"We thought it would be great to open up for the community to come down and see what we have. All the students have entered in the slam dunk competition. They can join the players on the Dark Ride in virtual reality too."
Lynmore School student Claudia Dunn, 6, was one of the large crowd.
She plays basketball every Monday after first learning the rules two years ago.
"We don't do positions ... I get some in the hoops," she said.
Te Wharekura o Ngāti Rongomai student Ociana Ohi Te Rangi, 15, said most of her schoolmates had played basketball "since they were little".
"I play rugby but I put my name down to come to see the team anyway."
She said about 49 students from her school had been dropped of by their parents to see the team, before classes started in Holdens Bay.
"We played on the Xtreme Air, went to the mini golf, laser tag, Timezone, and bowling and we met two players."
Tall Blacks centre Rob Loe said the team normally had "one or two" meet and greet opportunities with the public during training camps.
"Nowadays we are in pretty short camps so it is hard to get all the stuff we need to do on the court in, too. It is pretty full on, with training and video sessions and all the other things."
He said the team arrived on Sunday night and would return to Auckland on Friday morning after the Thursday night match.
Shooting guard Reuben Te Rangi said it was "awesome" getting out to see the kids in Rotorua.
"It's always fun getting out seeing what the rest of the country thinks about our basketball."
The Tall Blacks and the Hong Kong team were officially welcomed to Rotorua later in the morning at the match venue, the Energy Events Centre.
Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu, Rotorua Girls' High School, and John Paul College students led a pōwhiri.
Mayor Steve Chadwick and councillors were also there for the welcome.
Tall Black v Hong Kong
When: Thursday, June 28, 7pm.
Where: Energy Events Centre, Rotorua.
Tickets: From $15 for youth to $35 for adults. Discounted tickets for group bookings of 6 or more via http://www.ticketmaster.co.nz or call 09 970 9711.