National success is on the cards for Whangārei Boys' High School's senior basketball team as they take the court for their first game in the national secondary school basketball competition in Palmerston North today.
The week-long tournament will feature the best 24 boys' schools including Whangārei Boys' High School (WBHS), who made it through to the competition via a seventh-placed finish at a zone one qualifying tournament in Auckland earlier this month.
Apart from an invited appearance at the competition about 10 years ago, this year's team was the first to qualify for the school in about 30 years, back when Northland basketball legend Pero Cameron was a student.
WBHS are in the competition's pool D alongside St John's College (Hamilton), Auckland Grammar School, Rangitoto College, St Andrew's College and Shirley Boys High School. WBHS first play St John's College at 2.15pm today.
WBHS secured their nationals berth through a must-win game against Auckland's Liston College at the qualifying tournament. WBHS player Devon Mills, a shooting guard/small forward, shone throughout the competition and was the second highest scorer across all teams.
Read more: Northland schools shine at tournament week
"I wouldn't say I was hoping [to score so much] but it was my team who put me in positions and gave me opportunities to score," Mills said.
WBHS won comfortably against Liston College and 18-year-old Mills said it was down to his team's physicality.
"We knew we had to hit [Liston] hard straight off the bat, assert ourselves straight away because they were a tough team right throughout the tournament.
"Honestly, straight after [the game] we were just quiet because our coaches were telling us to keep it humble... and as soon as we got into the van, that's when it really kicked in."
Mills, a Year 13 student, had been in the team as a Year 11 but didn't play last year as he was over in the United States playing for Tamalpais High School in San Francisco.
Mills hoped he could use his experience to help his team topple some of the bigger schools at the competition.
"[Our players] know their roles so well, even when they are not getting on the court they are always there to support the players that are on the court.
"Ultimately, the goal is to win but I'd just like to upset some big name teams, get Northland basketball back on the map."
Reef Churches, a fellow Year 13 standing at over 200 centimetres (6'7''), was in his second year with the senior team and said he was thrilled to attend the nationals.
The 17-year-old centre hoped the team could show their skills in front of the national selectors.
"I'm just proud to be there, we get to showcase [our team] at the tournament which is pretty exciting."
Tukaha Cooper, 17, was in his first year with the team after he transferred from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe to WBHS for a more competitive basketball scene.
Despite having to live away from a supportive family, Cooper said his move was paid off by qualifying for nationals.
"We don't have many good competitions where I'm from, so it's good to come down [to Whangārei and get some good competition."
The team is coached by Northland basketball stalwarts Francis Heremaia and Ray Cameron. Heremaia, an former student of WBHS, was also a member of the team 30 years ago which qualified for nationals, which Cooper said benefited the team greatly.
"It's cool because [Heremaia] can relate to us easily because he grew up around here, it's easier to get along with him and it's good to have his knowledge and wisdom around the sport."
Heremaia was a former coach at Huanui College but changed to coach the WBHS team from March this year. While he had aspirations of a top five finish, Heremaia said all he wanted to see was enjoyment on the court.
"It's all about just enjoying playing together and having a good laugh as well."
The team had to raise about $6000 to attend the competition over a matter of days. Heremaia wanted to thank sponsors Rob Nordstrom from Rubicon, Steve Moore from Moore Car Isuzu and Kia Northland, and Coach Teremakitemu from Lowtide.