They have been shimmying, faking and shooting hoops at Henry Hill School in Napier for a fortnight now but what is the key take home for the youngsters?

"We've talked about sleep and how important that is," says former Tall Blacks basketballer Benny Hill who is mentoring the primary schoolchildren in a bid to give something back to a code that has moulded his life template.

The message at the end of the session was how key a component sleep can be in life where "the rest takes care of itself".

Hill, a four-time National Basketball League title-winning forward and former Taylor Corporation Hawks player/coach, mentors 40 to 50 boys and girls who are at a school his eldest son, Cooper, 7, is attending.

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A board of trustees member, the 40-year-old says the concept came about after he and school principal Jason Williams had broached the subject some time ago.

"It's obviously about mentoring the kids and being a role model for them while using basketball as a medium," says Hill, who used to conduct hardcore playing sessions for teenagers and adults in Manawatu for a few years.

Former Tall Black Benny Hill says if 5 to 10 per cent of children pick up his messages then he's on to a winner. Photo Warren Buckland
Former Tall Black Benny Hill says if 5 to 10 per cent of children pick up his messages then he's on to a winner. Photo Warren Buckland

It doesn't surprise him that youngsters have gravitated towards the programme at Henry Hill School where they train on Tuesdays.

"Basketball's popularity is reasonable large now with the Steven Adams factor and all that sort of stuff."

Hill says the children are at a delicate age where it's hard to "keep them in line" because they tend to struggle, at times, with certain things.

"I can limit it to about 45 minutes to an hour but there's a lot to take in," he explains, sympathising with the demands placed on the teaching profession. "It's not all just about basketball — it's about life in general and helping them move in the right direction."

The overall picture is to impress on the youngsters and make them realise they can achieve things if they put in the hard yards and mind on the task.

"If I can get 5 to 10 per cent of the kids moving in the right direction then I'm winning," he says.

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Hill says in a world now where blue light increasingly dictates the tempo of existence it's easy for children to watch a fair whack of life slip by due to sleep deprivation.

"They tend to be processing so much stuff during the day it's obvious the brain needs a rest."

While he isn't sure how many children actually adhere to the edict of early to bed and early to rise makes people healthy, wealthy and wise, Hill says the feedback on social media from parents is encouraging.

"He probably sleeps 10 hours a day but he should be sleeping a little bit more," he says of his year 3 son who hits the sack around 6.30pm but wakes up at 6am.

Hill says there's no doubt he's got some immensely talented youngsters in his muster but it's imperative to ensure their mind set is right as they progress from one stage of development to another.

That also means instilling a lifetime's habit of attendance and punctuality in committing to any challenges.

"Education becomes important because you do not play sport all your life," he says. "Your basketball or sporting career only lasts 10 years max, at the most, if you're really good at it."

Hill says he's receiving requests from other schools in the country with the proviso of emulating his programme to help them out, too.

"The mental aspect of sport is, I guess, quite surreal so how you deal with that sort of affects how you play as well."

A few high schools in Hawke's Bay have approached, too.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Hastings Boys' or Napier Boys' would be approaching me as well."

Former Hawks player/coach Benny Hill says mentoring Henry Hill School pupils isn't just about sharpening their basketball skills. Photo / Warren Buckland
Former Hawks player/coach Benny Hill says mentoring Henry Hill School pupils isn't just about sharpening their basketball skills. Photo / Warren Buckland

Hill, who is on the Hawks franchise board, doesn't see himself gravitating towards an academy type of establishment now that the Paul Henare and Paora Winitana one had closed its doors last year.

He suspects two academies have sprouted in Hastings and one in Napier, as of late.

"It's an interesting, to be honest," he says when asked if so many academies will be a boon for the Bay. "You have to have some sort of governance around what academies should do."

While there's a demand for them, Hill reckons, Basketball Hawke's Bay, for argument's sake, should take ownership as guardians of the code to establish quality controls to ensure cowboys don't start rolling into town.

The software developer is indebted to his employers, Panpac, for allowing him to take time off from 1pm on Tuesdays to mentor youngsters and then make for that time with flexi hours.

Hill reflects on his upbringing when volunteers helped hone his prowess and feels it's time now for him to re-invest in the community with what he has garnered over the years.

"My parents did say to me that education is the key and something I believed in."
Education, he stresses, is a great life insurance package and considers himself lucky to have won a scholarship at Waikato University during the prime of his playing career.

The former Waikato Pistons player, who is the son of Tall Blacks legend Stan Hill, retired from playing in 2016.

Hill thanks wife Toni for taking in her stride their other sons, Parker, 4 — who also will attend Henry Hill from August — and 1-year-old Hudson while he mentors children in the programme.