By RICHARD BOOCK
She still answers on the phone to "Bubby" but Temepara George has come a long way from the days when she was the baby of the Silver Ferns.
The 24-year-old mother of two celebrated a return to the ranks of international netball on Tuesday when she was named in the New Zealand squad for the test match against Australia.
From the North Harbour-based Force franchise, George was first selected for New Zealand in 1996 as a 20-year-old, and watched from the bench as Leigh Gibbs' Ferns were blown away 3-0 across the Tasman.
Known for her sleight of hand and passing flair, the Auckland centre had a year off in 1997 when her second child was born, and returned to the New Zealand training squad last November - after successive national league campaigns with the Diamonds and the Cometz.
George, who lives in Weymouth with partner Wayne, daughter Jusdean, 6, and son Erin-Wayne, 2, said the call-up had caused great excitement in the family.
"My heart almost burst out of my chest," she said. "This is so different from 1996, it's a big bonus really - I never expected it.
"Wayne was more excited than anyone. He bought me flowers and took me out to dinner, and Jusdean was full of it too. She met me at the door and told me 'mum, you're in the Silver Ferns'.
"Just being in the training squad was really cool because there's so many other talented players around, but this is really neat. It feels good to be back."
A key factor in the Force's strong Coca-Cola Cup campaign this season, George won selection ahead of Magic captain Jenny-May Coffin and seems likely to begin duties on the bench in Newcastle, where she can provide cover for likely starters Julie Seymour and Anna Rowberry.
She said notwithstanding the two pregnancies, an improved fitness campaign this year had left her in the best shape of her career, and had convinced her of the benefits of a healthy body and mind.
"I'm as fit as I've ever been, and my court vision seems to have really improved. Being fitter helps the mind, I'm sure. It allows you to better concentrate on what you're doing."