Kendell Heremaia, the Junior Tall Fern from Waikato, will be departing for her new home in New York City this January. Heremaia is another Kiwi who has signed a Division 1 Scholarship to Fordham University under Coach Stephanie Gaitley, where she will join Canterburys Mary Goulding and newly signed Zara Jillings from North Harbour.

The first time Coach Gaitley watched Heremaia play was at the Secondary Schools National Championships in September this year, where Gaitley was scouting Jillings at the time.

"Kendells overall talent jumped out to me immediately. She is a strong physical guard who can score in many ways. The best part of her game may be her outstanding passing skills. She does a great job of making her teammates better. I am excited about her future in a Fordham uniform.

"We are excited to bring two outstanding young players in Zara and Kendell to Fordham. They will be teammates not only at Fordham, but for their Junior Tall Ferns as well. We have had a great deal of success recruiting in New Zealand and feel both of these young ladies have a chance to be special players with outstanding futures," said Coach Gaitley.

Fordham secured the 510" Forward with a full-ride scholarship ahead of competition from other colleges. Heremaia said her final choice really came down to two possibilities.

"Receiving interest from a number of universities was both a big buzz for me and a little overwhelming. I was considering one other college in the Big Sky Conference. It took me ages to make my final decision. It was hard for me because I really liked both coaches, their coaching teams and their programs."

Heremaia has crafted her game by playing basketball with her family around local hoops in Waikato.

"My family has always been involved with basketball. My Nana and Papa used to be referees for local competitions in Whangarei, where I was born. My Mum and Dad used to play, and my siblings and I would be running around until we had to help pack everything away for the night. We were at the local gym probably four to five nights a week.

"My passion for this sport grew because it was a family thing. My family were fully supportive of me and were at every tournament they could. Dad would put his leave in at the beginning of the year around basketball tournaments.

"My Dad would help me outside of training by taking me to the nearest hoop wherever it was, be it at a local park, school or against a wall at home. Just working on my timing, my footwork and visualising each movement in a game situation. Dad works eight hours a day, and for him to come home and take my brothers, my big sister and I for a shoot around - I really appreciate him for that."

When speaking to Kendell, her appreciation for family continues to flow as she mentions her Mums love and sporting successes in her own right, the support of cousins, aunties and uncles, and then coaches too. That appreciation for others is a quality to admire. Yet while the young and talented player puts her success down to support of many others, surely her personal work ethic and talent are the main factors? That was the question put to Kendells provincial and school Coach Anthony Corban.

"Kendell is very competitive and determined. I continually joke with her about her poker game face. As her body language at times can be her own worst enemy. On court when Kendell gets going offensively, she is a nightmare to defend.

"She has tremendous support from her family and grandparents who travel the length of the country to support her.

"Leanne Walker has also supported Kendell the last two years of her high school basketball as she transferred from Nga Taiatea to St Peters Cambridge. It was a great way for Kendell to sign off her high school career here in New Zealand by captaining St Peters to victory this year at Secondary School Nationals," said Corban.

Heremaia set her sights on a U.S. Scholarship when she was 16.

"I decided that I wanted to attain a scholarship to study and play basketball in America. When I expressed this to my parents, we all sat down and they helped me to set goals to tick off each time I accomplished them. Last year I signed with Custom College Recruiting and within a few weeks of finalising my profile I received interest from universities. It was so exciting."

Now that she has signed, Heremaia says her main goal is to do well at school and get a Bachelors Degree, and maybe even a Masters Degree.

"While I am over there, learning new systems and protocols around both study and with basketball is going to be so interesting. I know that it is going to be an awesome experience. It will all be new to me as I spent a majority of my schooling years, except for my last two years, at total immersion Te Reo Maori schools. My last two years of school were at St Peters where I was able to transition from total immersion to mainstream. I really enjoyed my time at St Peters and a big bonus was winning the Secondary School Championships both years that I was there."

In the long term, Heremaia says she aspires to play for the Tall Ferns and to play professionally. Then, if possible, she says she would like to spend time giving back.

"I would love to come back to New Zealand and go back up home to work with the young ones and encourage them to focus on doing their best. To help them see that you can do anything you want to do if you never give up."

Once in New York, Kendell will be living on campus in the dorms with other student-athletes, and she wants to study Business and Management, and Visual Arts. On court, she will be red-shirting up until the following season.

"When I get there I will be getting straight into training. I cant wait," she says with a grin.

Heremaia's next big test will be with the Junior Tall Ferns, where she will play in the FIBA Oceania Championships next week.

- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand