It isn't simply about putting a ball through the hoop after shimmying and faking in oversized shorts.

No, the IMS Payroll Paul Henare and Paora Winitana Basketball Academy in Hawke's Bay is more about preparing youngsters for life's challenges regardless of whether they go on to become elite players of any description.

"Only 1 to 2 per cent of children make it professionally. Actually how many Olympians do we have in the Bay?" asked Winitana, who was speaking at a sponsors' 6am breakfast gathering at the Hastings Sports Centre last Wednesday, where some of the academy members gave a glimpse of what routine they embrace before going to school.

Regardless of whether children came from prosperous homes or broken ones, the academy offers them an opportunity to become exemplary individuals in society.


Four years ago it had 30 youngsters but today it has mushroomed to 70.

The seniors start at 5.15am and finish at 6.45am, while the juniors begin at 6.45am and conclude sessions at 7.45am with prayers and a nourishing brekky before taking up the mental challenges at school.

They use basketball as a tool to learn twice a week at the Hastings and Napier academies from late February to mid-November.

Adhering to a code of honour, they learn leadership responsibilities as well as becoming diligent in doing homework and other assignments at home.

Napier junior member Renee Karaitiana said: "It's like a second family at the academy and it's okay to make mistakes as long as you're trying because that's making me a better person."

Tamatea High School head boy Adam Winnie said: "We prepare leaders on and off the court so we're all leaders in our own right."

An overwhelming endorsement from youngsters was their confidence to break out of the cocoon of shyness to become confident speakers in front of crowds.

A Kiwi-born Samoan from Flaxmere and third-year academy coach, Reece Tuala-Fata, revealed he came from an environment where most of his neighbourhood mates had graduated to patched gang members.

The 29-year-old former Hawks guard said: "I was very lucky to have a loving and caring single-parent mum."

Former US-born Hawk Clifton Bush II, whose son Clifton III is in the academy, said he was Winitana's former roommate when the latter mooted the idea of an academy.

"I'm not a morning person but if the kids are there then I'll be there, too," said the 44-year-old academy coach.

"At these kids' age I needed an academy in my life but I didn't have it but if I did at the time I would have stayed out of more trouble," he said, adding although he was older he always looked up to former Tall Black Winitana for inspiration.

Winitana, who last season assumed the mantle of Hawks player/coach when Australian Liam Flynn was sacked, said when the academy notion cropped up many didn't think it would have survived "because most people don't wake up that early to train".

"That's no longer our view or the academy's because it's the kids who are doing it," said the 38-year-old who is a Mormon bishop.

Sponsors were invited to engage in basketball drills with the youngsters and to gauge certain aspects of their shooting and dribbling prowess before finishing with a nourishing brekky.

Henare, the Tall Blacks coach and assistant New Zealand Breakers coach, made a cameo pre-recorded Skype appearance to thank sponsors and to encourage new ones to come on board to ensure the academy carried on its stellar commitment to the community.

The academy, which also takes youngsters to trips to America to broaden their horizon, offers sponsorship options from bronze ($500) up to platinum ($10,000).

However, it will gladly accept any form of help, including coaching resources, basketball gear, school stationary, gift cards, petrol vouchers, breakfast and food, sport clothing, screen printing and marketing nous etc.

Alastair Kendon is the chairman of the academy board, with Steve Dickson, Kath Eaton, Damon Harvey, Jane Howden, Shane Luki, Kerry Rich, Kiri Wehipeihana, Winitana, Kelvin Winnie and Wayne Wright as board members.