TEARS hold Mahia Isherwood at ransom for a fleeting few seconds as she sits across the dinner table from her mother, Kiri Wehipeihana, at their Napier home.

The silent stream meandering down Isherwood's cheeks aren't a penalty of frustration but a statement of triumph over her trials and tribulations in basketball.

On entering the sporting land of giants as a youngster, she found it can sometimes be hard going trying to prove one's worth.

"I really enjoy playing basketball so I don't think anyone should stop me from enjoying it," says Isherwood who jets off to Las Vegas for the fourth time on Tuesday.


The 17-year-old shooting guard is part of the Kenny McFadden-established New Zealand Basketball Academy age-group representatives playing in the varsity grade under coach Voldi Simi.

They will play back-to-back tournaments, including Jam On It and the popular Big Foot in the United States.

When age-group coaches slam the door shut, the vertically challenged tend to either use that as motivational fodder and have a chip on their shoulder to prove them wrong or they wilt away into obscurity before drifting to other codes.

The great Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) and Carmello Anthony (New York Knicks) come to mind.

Their respective school coaches deemed them too short but Jordan and Anthony went on to win college national crowns before becoming household names in the NBA.

Closer to home, Isherwood can relate to such rejection in pursuit of national age-group selection, after biting her bottom lip and digging her heels in to continue shimmying and faking to find love with the rim over seven years.

A former netballer and volleyballer, she started at Bledisloe Primary School because the boys didn't have enough players.

"I helped them out and have been playing ever since."


Her christening in basketball was quite a confusing time because of the freedom to do what she wanted as opposed to netball's rigid rules.

"Netball has a lot of structure while in basketball there's like a lot of flexibility to play in any position."

Familiarity and knowledge soon paved the way for enjoyment and acceptance.

The former netball centre found basketball mentally and physically challenging.

"I wasn't allowed to play goal shoot or attack in netball because they said I was too short."

Her evolution into a shooting guard found reinforcement in her NZBA trip to Las Vegas in 2014 where she was named MVP.

"I practised a lot for that trip and got good points so ever since then I've considered myself a shooter," she says, a backboard and hoop atop the garage a testimony to hours spent on honing that skill.

A member of the Paul Henare and Paora Winitana Hawke's Bay Basketball Academy in the two cities for five years, the pair sent her back to the drawing board to remodel her shooting style.

It wasn't an easy transition into basketball despite assurances from her mother that switching lanes from netball to basketball was going to be elementary.

"Mum told me it was just going to be like netball but it wasn't anything like it," says the Napier Girls' High School year 12 pupil as her mother nods in approval amid laughter.

The first round of reinforcement came from her first coach, Damien Davies, a former IMS Payroll Hawks player who was coaching the Bledisloe team at the time because his son was playing.

NZBA's Simi is one of the best coaches she's ever had. He asked them to be underdogs last year in Las Vegas where they finished third.

Isherwood's parents five years ago discovered the depth of girls' age-group basketball in the Bay wasn't there so venturing out of the province became inevitable.

With McFadden advertising for players to tour in the US three years ago, Wehipeihana put her feelers out.

"The pool of girls in Wellington was very talented but they were also very welcoming," says the mother, noting the trust the academy had in players.

"If they put you out on the court they had high expectations of you but if you made a mistake they didn't pull you off," she says, sensing incremental growth in her daughter's confidence over the years.

It was a cash outlay for Wehipeihana and husband Colin Isherwood - both teachers at Henry Hill School in Napier, "the best school in Hawke's Bay" - to travel to camps every month but it was worth the investment as it also complemented the Bay academy's input. Son Kupa, 14, of Napier Boys' High School, is involved in other codes.

Daughter Mahia Isherwood wakes up about 5am to attend the Bay academy to train and learn life skills, such as the "selfless act of service" to help others without expecting anything in return.

It also helped her break out of her cocoon of shyness when she was younger.

"I'm not really shy anymore."

About here she is overcome with emotion in revealing academy coach and former Hawk Clifton Bush has been instrumental in her development as well.


"Cliffy's like my second dad from Hawke's Bay. I love him very much and he's one of the best coaches in the world."

Words deceive a teary-eyed Isherwood but her mother picks it up from there.

Explains Wehipeihana: "He's always backed her. It doesn't matter what other people say."

Failing to make the cut at national age-group level often had Isherwood questioning her faith but she showed resilience.

"I was encouraged to be better to prove to them [coaches] that they should have picked me," says the teenager who just missed the cut of 12 for the NZ under-17 women's team last year.

At the under-17 nationals in July last year, she was rated the fourth top scorer in the tournament on day four.

A defensive player whose forte was making steals and hustling, Isherwood was the top scorer in last year's HB Secondary School final for NGHS against Hastings Girls' High School.

"Paora looked at her shooting style and thought that was something she could definitely develop," says Wehipeihana of her daughter who was declared MVP for the HB U17 girls' team.

Isherwood was picked for the New Zealand U18 Women's Koru team to play in Australia in January this year but she turned it down to focus on the Las Vegas trip.

The NZBA is like a family for Isherwood whereas at the New Zealand age-group camps she felt left out.

The Vegas trip is exciting, luring teams from not just within the US but also Mexico and Canada.

"You have a really high calibre of players so you have to put your best foot forward in every game."

She's not sure if she'll apply for a US college sport scholarship to play there but she'll persist with the game.

"I was offered a scholarship from a second-division university there the year before but they didn't realise I was only 15 at the time," says Isherwood, emphasising if she does go it'll be to a first-division college.

Like her parents, she wants to be a schoolteacher.

"I don't really enjoy school that much but I'm pretty good at it," says Isherwood who is partial to art design, photography, English and history and has no qualms about missing a week's school.