Expect a massive effort from the Milestone Homes Northland Suns as they farewell local basketball legend Carmen Hetaraka in the Intercity League final against Waitakere on Saturday.



Hetaraka expected to fill a mentoring role on the team this year but once again was called on to play and has made another invaluable contribution on the road to the final.



This time he insists he is calling it quits as a player at the first class level.



"I'd love to say that I could carry on but it's time I moved over to my mentoring role in the youth development programme fulltime and join people like Mata Cameron because we both know that's the future of the game up here," he said.

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He said Northland has never attracted the big sponsorship dollars needed to compete at the national level and had always relied on its players, their families and friends to get by.



"We've always been a low budget team but we've always had enough local sponsors to get what we've needed and the strength of our game has been the Northland people," he said.



The Suns management are already celebrating a more successful season that they'd hoped for and much of that success can be down to Hetaraka's contacts.



Heteraka played in the Suns with Northland greats like Ben Anthony, Mike Foster and Ronnie Joiner and when the Suns had a weaker than expected line-up at the start of the season he put out his feelers for players with Northland connections.



He came up with BJ Anthony (junior) and Ray Cameron and they have added talent and depth to the team that has taken them into the final. The veteran, who wouldn't spill the beans on his age but did say he played in the last second division final Northland won way back in 1991, said beating Waitakere won't be easy.



"They're unbeaten this year and are the favourites but we're not going down there just to show up - we're going to win," he said.



"We played poorly when we met them and went down by 19 points but we didn't have Travis [McIlroy] on the team that day and he's worth 20 points so that should even things up," he reasoned.



McIlroy said the team are ready to put the finishing touch on a great season and want to send off Hetaraka in an appropriate way.



"We want to make this a fitting end to Carmen's playing career with the Suns, we want him to go out on a high note and the best way for us to do that is to beat Waitakere and win the final," the shooting guard said.



Like all Northland basketball players McIlroy has been helped by Hetaraka.



"He was a mentor for me when I was a young lad and most of the team can say that too ... he always makes us feel a bit taller on the court," he said.


McIlroy said the community support shown towards the team has been immense - as always - this season.



"An example of that was we contacted Normans Bus and Coach to enquire how much it would be to hire a bus for the team and supporters. Peter Norman had been following the progress of the team and didn't hesitate to supply the driver and the bus for free," he said.



Travis is hoping the extra Northland supporters help them bring home the title and to salute the grand old man of Northland basketball as he makes his last appearance for the Suns.