Rotorua Boys' High School basketball players have enjoyed a dream pre-season trip overseas.
Twenty-two students, including the senior A team as well as some junior and development players, spent two weeks in the United States playing basketball and absorbing as much of the local culture as possible.
The Rotorua players were split into two teams. Each team won three out of five games against American high schools.
Rotorua Boys' High School head basketball coach Mark Elers said the tour was about giving the students access to valuable life experiences, with basketball as the theme.
"The focus on preparing for and playing games became very hard in the environment that is New York. There's so much to see and do that there were distractions everywhere.
"As a coaching and management group, we eased up on our basketball expectations. We wanted them to play hard and we always play to win, but that wasn't the focus.
"The tour was a good lead-up into our pre-season and a really good opportunity for the players to grow as young men."
When Elers was asked what some of the highlights of the trip were, he said there was a new one every day, including visiting the Empire State Building and going to an NBA game.
"For me, the biggest highlight was probably seeing the boys' reaction to everything, how they adapted, how they played. They've come away with lifelong memories.
"They represented the school really well. A personal highlight was when they did a haka at Madison Square Garden (home of the New York Knicks) for one of our fellow Kiwis Ross McMains who is part of the coaching team there. The boys got to meet some of the NBA players prior to that game as well."
Rotorua Boys' basketball director Theo Tait said the team took some of the American players by surprise.
"A lot of the kids at the schools that we played have never heard of New Zealand and if they did, it was all about rugby. I think overall, we woke them up a bit on the basketball side, we have some really talented boys.
"I think for our boys it showed them they could go there and match them, or even be better."
Tait said the team developed "a lot of camaraderie as a group" which would be valuable throughout the upcoming season, during which first place at nationals was the ultimate goal.
"That bond is really important and a great way to start the 2019 season. We have all our players back from 2018 - we qualified for nationals last year and did okay, but this year we feel we have a very, very good team going forward."
The students were also thrilled with the experience.
Shaun Gifkins, 15, said the biggest highlight off the court was visiting the Empire State Building.
"Getting to see the whole of New York City and the culture. The difference between all the greenery we have back home and the buildings and everything over there - I've never experienced anything like that before."
Tai McLachlan, 16, said the biggest difference on the court was the pace the Americans played at.
"Over there it's a lot faster and everyone is more athletic - they move their feet faster.
"Trying to keep up with their pace and the transition was a lot different. I think we developed early and adapted well, by the end of the first game we realised what we had to improve on and pick up on."
Jared Hamilton, 16, said he learned a lot about playing faster and having self-confidence.
"It was really fast and fun to play. We need to learn to shoot the ball, there were a lot of opportunities we had that we didn't shoot the ball. We need the confidence to take the shots."
Te Paerata Hughes, 15, said he enjoyed the cultural experience.
"It was pretty cool showing our culture to them too. Most of them haven't really experience a culture like ours, it's different to what they'd usually see."
Defensive domination on court for Logan Elers
Former Rotorua Boys' High School student Logan Elers is going from strength-to-strength on court for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
Elers, the son of Rotorua Boys' head coach Mark Elers, is in his third year at the college and has been in hot form recently.
He has been named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week twice in three weeks.
Last week, he had 10 rebounds in each of his two outings, averaging 14 points per game. Two weeks prior, he raked in 31 rebounds in two games, including tying a career-high 18 boards against New Mexico Highlands. Elers is averaging 12 points and 6.7 rebounds a game this season.