Hawke's Bay is laying a foundation to construct a sturdy pathway for emerging amateur talent to find a foothold in the higher echelons of basketball.
When the Trail Media Basketball Hawke's Bay Elite League tips off from 6pm at the Pettigrew Green Arena in Napier today it'll begin a campaign to whet the insatiable appetite for the indoor sport.
The two-pronged ambition is to arrest the "blow-outs in high school leagues" where the cream of talent aren't playing enough competitive games often exposed at lower North Island and national tournaments as well as no elite stage for adults.
The new league has a six-team men's competition and four-team women's one although MAC women withdrew at the 11th hour.
"When I first started in 2017, there was only a social/semi-competition league with zero women playing in it and no scoreboards," says BBHB basketball manager Morgan Maskell.
"We have nearly doubled the number of teams in that space since."
Maskell says the challenge is to provide a level of play for anyone, regardless of age, gender and ability.
"Our new BizHoops league is looking to expand into the social space while the elite league provides an avenue for our quality locals to play competitively," he says.
BBHB general manager Chris McIvor says a key part of the vision to have more Bay born-and-bred players representing the Taylor Corporation Hawks in the NBL via national age-group representation.
"In the women's grade this is a step towards a potential WBC team in the future," says McIvor, adding the elite league also will provide valuable practice for our home-grown referees and score bench officials.
The code's growth and popularity pose the challenge of finding players and courts to absorb the demands.
However, they are mindful participation drops once teenagers leave high school although the sport remains popular.
The exodus of developing talent is the region's remoteness although high school self-funded road trips help fill that desire.
"Hawke's Bay has also seen promising young players leave the region in search of greener pastures. Sometimes there are success stories in doing so, but often the grass isn't greener," says McIvor.
While that is beyond Basketball HB's control it can create a platform for one of the best development programmes in the country where someone of his position can look a parent in the eye to reassure them the Bay is capable of meeting those requirements.
Powerhouse schools — such as Hastings Boys' High, Napier Boys' High and Napier Girls' High — will compete in the elite league to counter the blow-outs against minnow Bay schools and incrementally grow, technically or tactically.
"We've done a great job across most of our spaces except for our nationally competitive high school teams, who almost never have competitive games in our local secondary school competition."
McIvor says BBHB struggles with commitment from females 18-year-old and above regardless of whether it's social, semi-competitive or competitive.
"I know for a fact that there are enough competent female basketballers in the region, and a number of young females that would benefit from participating in this league — but getting them to commit to playing is another story," he says after MAC's withdrawal.
The U11 and U13 mini-ballers need a beacon in the Bay.
The Kaleb Edwards-captained Hastings Old Boys men's team have won several division one Bay leagues in the past 24 months.
Edwards was part of the Hawks greater squad last year while Geoff Heather & Jacob Nahora were in this year's mix.
"The future generations receiving the development they need is exciting," says the Flaxmere College teacher aide.
HBHS coach Curtis Wooten says their squad comprises year 11-12 pupils who had finished 14th at last year's high school nationals so the league will help in rebuilding.
Wooten says HBHS is among favourites to clinch the Lower North Island Junior Secondary School Premierships to be staged here in September.
The other men's teams are the Kerry Rayner-skippered Kings who have the Hawks pair of Dominic McGovan and Darryl Jones.
NBHS had finished eighth at the school nationals last year so coach Bugg Davies believes the league will be a catalyst to remain in the top 10 this year.
"Clifton Bush III and Kobe Kara recently suited up at the Steven Adams High School Invitational and will be players to look out for," Davies says. "We're looking forward to it because we know there's some really good teams in there and these boys will find out what they're made of! It is going to be bloody awesome for us, especially leading up to the lower North Island regionals and nationals."
Craig Findlay will captain the Napier Tech Sweepers side who boast ex-Tall Blacks Benny Hill, Clifton Bush Jr, Paora Winitana and Everard Bartlett.
Ex-Hawk squad member Ravi Mani will skipper the Toro Atu side who have competed under the banner of Victory Royale, winning the Autumn 2019 division one crown.
Mani's line-up will include Taranaki Mountainair captain/guard Alonzo Burton.
"We have changed to Toro Atu, which means 'reach out' in Maori," says Mani. "Most of our team is Maori and we feel like our people are always affected by mental illness and we want to keep te reo alive in any way we can."
The team's uniform will feature a lime green stripe to symbolise mental health awareness.
In the women's competition, Flyers captain Madison King says they are predominantly in their 20s, comprising former Bay reps who will reveal some tricks via the old heads of Ravens and younger NGHS ones.
King is a community coach for BBHB with Sarah Nunez while Kaya Lord, Mahia Isherwood and Kresna Crouch left NGHS three years ago.
The height of this team will create a staunch defence that the other teams will find incredibly tough to score on.
"We need more women playing basketball in Hawke's Bay so this is a great opportunity to get involved and keep developing the region," she says as the Flyers aim to hang their hats on the cornerstone of defence.
NGHS are coming off a school record ninth place under the tutelage of Maskell's in his maiden season and hope to crack the top eight historically this year.
National rep Melika Samia averaged 35.4 points a game at the recent U17 nationals while Ashleigh Poi, younger sister of Silver Fern Kimiora Poi, has been one of the most consistent leading scorers in the HB school league this year.
"The more familiar we can be with one another, the more likely we will have a culture that will breed success on and off the court," says Maskell.
Ravens captain Lillian Bartlett brings experience alongside Killarney Gallagher.
"You might think to play basketball you already need to be good. Well, that simply isn't true," says Bartlett. "Like most things in life, it's a process transitioning from capable to confident."
Exposure through the Tall Ferns, females in college, Australian WNBL and live streamed NZ WBL games is great for women, she says.
"Whether you are having a go or working on your game, basketball is a sport that knows no boundaries," says Bartlett. "For our Ravens it can be daunting dusting off the boots but after the reality check is done we know that sky's the limit this season."