Two Northland wheelchair basketballers have made history as the first players from the region to be selected for New Zealand in recent memory.
While the late Brent Lynn played for New Zealand at an age-group level, Jamie Tapp and Derek Donker will be the first from Northland to wear the silver fern for the senior team when they travel to Thailand in November.
The pair will take part in an international wheelchair basketball tri-series competition which will see the top teams from New Zealand, Thailand and South Africa play each other three times each.
Despite Donker and Tapp being the only two players from Northland selected, they won't be the only ones from the region making the trip. Glenn McDonald, who currently coaches the Northland team, will travel with the team as an assistant coach.
The inclusion of three Northlanders in the New Zealand wheelchair basketball setup was a sign of the region's emergence on the sport's national scene. Competing in the sport's second division, Northland will be a strong contender when they take to the court today in Tauranga for the national competition.
Kaikohe local Tapp, 40, found his way to wheelchair basketball after a terrible car accident when he was 17. After losing all feeling from below the chest, the former rugby player took up wheelchair basketball when he was 23 and he hasn't looked back.
"When you were always playing sports as a young guy, you crave playing against people, getting the adrenaline rush," he said.
"You can get a bit of wind in your hair, a bit of sweat on your brow and clench your teeth coming up against another person.
"I love the physical nature and just being able to smash up against someone who's doing the same."
With funding scarce in wheelchair basketball, Tapp, a stay-at-home dad, worried about how he would get about $2000 to afford a trip to Thailand. However, through a Givealittle page, he was able to find the money in no time.
"I was really rapt because I was trying to figure out how to pay for it but I got a hand to make up the Givealittle page and it just blows my mind, it's awesome."
When asked about his contribution to Northland's success in the sport, Tapp said much of it was down to coach McDonald who had brought his extensive basketball knowledge to a group of keen players wanting to do their best.
Living on a dairy farm in Mangakahia, 50-year-old Derek Donker was partially paralysed after a motorcycle accident when he was 33 years old.
Another player new to the national team, Donker said he still hadn't come to terms with his selection.
"I am getting pretty excited but it hasn't really hit me yet, that I would be playing for NZ."
"I like a good bash but playing in second division [in New Zealand] you don't like to bash those guys around too much, but playing overseas you don't have to see those guys again so you can go hard."
While he was looking forward to the action, Donker said he would be glad to bring back the skills he would learn in Thailand to encourage more young people to try the sport.
Donker echoed Tapp's comments about Northland coach McDonald, crediting the former national manager and head coach for instilling a real structure to Northland's wheelchair basketball programme.
McDonald, who started with Northland about two years ago, had won five national titles with Auckland's wheelchair basketball team. Now looking to put family first, McDonald was realistic but pleased about Tapp and Donker's selection in the national team.
"[South Africa and Thailand] are both ranked higher than [New Zealand], they are more competitive than us, so it'll be a good challenge," he said.
"Nevertheless, it's an awesome experience for [Tapp and Donker] and it's good reward for the hard work they've put in over the last couple of years."
McDonald said Tapp and Donker had been integral to the improvement of Northland's wheelchair basketball programme and he knew the learnings they received while overseas would be put back into the local community.
"Their basketball IQ is improving, they can talk to the young guys and I just know they are the sort of guys who will give back."