My introduction to basketballer Paul Henare was an occasion I will never forget.

It was 1992 and Henare was a third former in the national title-winning Paul Trass-coached Napier Boys' High School team. The fact he was so young and in such an outstanding team was an early indication the promising point guard was worth keeping an eye on.

When he told me his goal was to make the Tall Blacks team to play at the 2000 Olympics eight years later was another.

"While I couldn't have visualised having the career I've had I did have lofty goals and aspirations back then. Paul [Trass] and my family made sure I never strayed from trying to achieve them," Henare recalled.

Advertisement

Now 40 and the Tall Blacks coach since 2015, Henare has had dream careers as a player and coach. So it's no surprise he has been chosen to be inducted into the Hawke's Bay Sports Hall of Fame at the Forsyth Barr Hawke's Bay Sports Awards function at Taradale's Pettigrew-Green Arena on May 25.

The Waipukurau-based father of four is struggling to accept the honour, however.

"Being recognised like that is hard because I am still going. I might appreciate it a lot more down the track. But being recognised at that elite level with so many of Hawke's Bay's sporting greats is an honour," Henare said.

Because he will be working on the night, coaching his Wellington Saints team against the Nelson Giants in the capital, his long-time friend and former Hawks and Tall Blacks teammate Paora Winitana will represent him at the induction. Henare agreed the induction made it easy for him to switch into reminiscing mode.

"I was fortunate to play for the Tall Blacks in what were golden times for the team. After playing at the 2000 Olympics we beat Australia for the first time in a series the following year. Not only was that the first time New Zealand had beaten Australia since 1978, it qualified us for the 2002 world champs," Henare recalled.

At the world champs in Indianapolis the Tall Blacks beat Puerto Rico in the quarter-finals before losing to eventual winners Yugoslavia in the semifinals and Germany in the bronze-medal game. Henare is adamant he wouldn't have progressed to the Tall Blacks as quickly as he did had he not accepted an offer to play under Tab Baldwin for the Auckland Stars in 1998.

"I had already had three years playing for the Hawks and playing for the Hawks was my life. Going up to Auckland as an 18-year-old helped me grow as a player and as a man. It was the most influential decision I made but my roots were always back in Hawke's Bay."

A member of the Hawks national title-winning team in 2006, Henare is confident the Hawks will experience title glory again.

Advertisement

"Tab took the Hawks to the final in 2014. Zico [Coronel] took the Hawks to the semifinals last year. Along with Nelson, Hawke's Bay is one of the longest-standing organisations in the league. History suggests it will only be a matter of time before the Hawks will be top again."

Henare had eight years as a player for the New Zealand Breakers and was a member of their first title-winning side in 2011.

"That was my last year as a player for the team and we became the first New Zealand side in any code to win an Aussie competition. We got over that hurdle and the Breakers went on to win again during the next two years," Henare recalled.

He was the assistant coach when the Breakers won again in 2015. Henare had the head coach role from 2016 to 2018 before taking on an assistant role with Melbourne United last summer. He will return to Melbourne United later this year.

No matter where Henare travels for basketball, he is regularly reminded by former teammates and opponents about how good his mother Jan's roast meals were.

"Mum was awesome. She always provided stability for me and the brothers. It's important to have supportive women behind you. My wife Lisa is very understanding. Basketball takes me away from home and she allows me to continue chasing my dreams."

We couldn't let Henare be inducted without his naming his Hawks and Tall Blacks selections, teams containing players he considered were the best he played alongside in both sides.

They are:
Tall Blacks: Paul Henare, Phill Jones, Kirk Penney, Pero Cameron, Sean Marks, Mark Dickel, Aaron Olson, Paora Winitana, Mika Vukona, Tony Rampton.
Hawke's Bay Hawks: Paul Henare, Paora Winitana, Adrian Majstrovich, Willie Burton, Kareem Johnson, Judd Flavell, Everard Bartlett, Greg Meldrum, Dusty Rychart, Derek Moore.