Mika Vukona's reputation on the basketball courts around the world is well known, he is a fearsome competitor and a demon on the boards, often out rebounding and out muscling players larger in frame but clearly not larger of heart and determination.
What isn't seen so much is the Mika behind the scenes, the player who is working towards his degree, studying on tour and at times sitting exams - as was the case this week with the Tall Blacks while in Latvia.
Vukona is pursuing a Bachelor of Information Sciences, majoring in Information Technology and minoring in Human Resource Management and on Wednesday night while others were taking a quiet relaxing walk around Riga or tucked up in bed in recovery mode after a long day's training, Vukona was holed up in a hotel room with the Tall Blacks Team Manager supervising his exam in Equity and Diversity in the Workplace.
"I am a fulltime professional athlete and at the moment dedicate my life to being the best I can be on the basketball court," said Vukona. "But I am aware also of the need to plan for beyond basketball and for a number of years now I have been studying at Massey, working towards my degree. I enjoy the challenge and the diversity that it brings, knowing that I am adding another dimension to my CV and exploring an area that will become more prominent when I one day decide to look for a 'real job'."
Not that he is about to retire, the Tall Blacks leader has recently signed a new three year deal with the SKYCITY Breakers and is still the talismanic figure to the national team that he has been for some years now. The father of two says his partnership with Massey University and the ability to study at his own pace has been critical to his ongoing work.
"The partnership with Massey has been great with the ability to study at my own pace and work it in to my daily training and playing regime is key. This is not the first exam I have ever done on the road and no doubt it won't be the last, I just have to find the time to study and focus - which often means hotel rooms after dinner or while we are travelling the many miles around the world on planes and buses."
Other Tall Blacks have achieved similar feats while playing professionally, including Tom Abercrombie from the current roster (BSC in Biological Sciences and about to start post-grad Diploma in Business Management), while others like Rob Loe and Mike Karena have either finished their degrees while at College or are still studying in the case of Tai Webster (Nebraska University).
The Tall Blacks continue to train in Riga in preparation for games against Iran (Sunday) and hosts Latvia (Monday) before travelling to Lithuania to play a final game before travelling to Manila for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.