They said cajoling youngsters to join a Hawke's Bay academy at 5.30am wasn't going to work in 2012 but, against the groundswell of regional basketball opinion, it did.
Now, the the Paul Henare & Paora Winitana Hawke's Bay Basketball Academy has launched a pilot after-school programme for youngsters in Hastings suburb of Flaxmere.
"That's how diamonds are made, right? With a little bit of pressure," says Winitana after he and Tall Blacks head coach Henare told invited guests at Flax Bar and Function Centre in the village on Monday night of the benefits about the Academy Basketball Community (ABC) programme.
"There's a need for it and we have a responsibility to help so everyone who knows about our Hawke's Bay academy know it's more than just basketball," says the 41-year-old former Taylor Corporation Hawks captain and mentor.
Among the guests at the launch were Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst, Cr Jacoby Poulain and former All Black captain Taine Randell, as well community leaders and supports of the academies.
The ABC programme came with a pledge from Hazlehurst that Poulain has been leading a steering committee to conduct a feasibility study on establishing a village green and community centre to the tune of more than $1 million.
Poulain says the development, based on the Havelock North village concept, will have something more concrete to work with by Christmas in the hope of building infrastructure for youngsters "as soon as possible".
Hazelhurst says it's imperative to do that considering 50 per cent of Flaxmere community is under the age of 35.
Winitana says the vision in 2012 was to provide a platform to engage with basketball but to use the game as a vehicle to teach youth about life and leadership.
They had consulted regional basketball authorities, clubs and coaches who felt it wasn't going to work in the Bay.
"They said Hawke's Bay kids don't wake up that early," he says with a grin. "They don't train and they aren't wired that way because they struggled to get kids to train in the weekends, let alone get them to wake up early."
The former Tall Blacks guard says the academy founders have been keeping the faith and the youngsters are endorsing that by showing they are capable of doing anything.
"They have the opportunities to work, to inspire and to be better than they are to help their families and their communities because it isn't just about basketball."
Winitana echoes sentiments of Henare that people initially had passed off the campaign as "it's just another basketball programme but it's not because it's more than basketball".
For the ABC programme, the academy members approached four Flaxmere schools — Peterhead, Irongate, Kimiora and Flaxmere School — to entice 80 children from the age of 5 up to be involved.
"Like Paulie says, the cool thing about it is that kids from our Flaxmere academy who started eight years ago are back to help in the ABC programme today," he says.
Tall Blacks head coach Henare says one of the most rewarding things for him is seeing the likes of first-year academy members, in the mould of Hawks Dominic McGovern, Kaleb Edwards and Isaiah Jones-Mitchell as well as Peterhead School teacher aide Mahia Isherwood, returning to the fold as mentors.
"[Dominic] started in Flaxmere in 2012 as a 14-year-old who just wouldn't say a word," he says with a grin. A few years later he saw a vocal McGovern inspiring other youngsters.
"It was just a mind-blowing moment for me to see him build himself so for me it was a snapshot of him now," says Henare. "I'm not going to lie, but there's a whole load of pride in there for myself so it's just one of many children we've had a positive impact on in their lives."
Winitana says while Flaxmere was a foundation region for the academy in 2012 a gym that didn't even measure to a half court one had stymied the opportunity be based there.
After consulting Flaxmere whanau, it was decided to operate from the Hastings Sports Centre gym.
The ABC programme, he says, opens a wider door for youngsters' involvement.
"That's been on our minds for the last three years because we keep turning away kids. We've had hundreds of kids participate in our morning programmes but thousands missing out so ABC was a way to get more kids involved and Flaxmere is about where we're going to start."
Winitana says a lot of good things happen in Flaxmere that people don't hear about.
"All they do hear sometimes is about the bad stuff so the ABC will enable the Flaxmere community to showcase the some of amazing tamariki rangitahi [youth] that they have here," says the former Hastings Boys' High School pupil who now lives in Napier. "It was a no-brainer for us."
Flaxmere is just the beginning of the ABC campaign. At the launch, guests were offered a glimpse of videotaped footage of academy members who had returned from a tour of the United States.
"We're going to target areas that need us most. We're looking at taking it up to Napier and we have whanau who are keen to have it going in Wairoa before taking it all over Hawke's Bay."
He lauded Bay stalwarts Kevin and Penny Atkinson, the Jarrod Cunningham Youth Sport Trust, the Hastings District Council, the Wharariki Trust, Unison, Trust House, Sport Hawke's Bay Kiwisport Fund and the Te Puni Kokiri for their unwavering support.
Winitana says the ABC programme is also indebted to heads of schools Martin Genet (Peterhead), Matt O'Dowda (Kimiora), Robyn Isaacson (Flaxmere School) and Maurice Rehu (Irongate) for embracing the concept.
He thanks Flaxmere College principal Louise Anaru for the use of its facilities for hosting the ABC programme.