HoopNation pushing new horizons

By James Perry

More than 1000 basketball players descended on Tauranga this weekend for the HoopNation.

The aim of the tournament is to expose basketball players in NZ to other international leagues.

Paul Berridge and KJ Allen founded the tournament in Whanganui in 2011. Initially, there were only 15 teams that entered. The HoopNation tournament is now into its 8th year. 

The pair say they are looking to new horizons and are on the cusp of breaking into the lucrative Asian market. In the meantime, their focus remains on providing young basketball players with opportunities and experiences that have been difficult to get in the past. Berridge is hoping to take a team to Melbourne, where the world's largest youth tournament is held. Berridge says the tour is about "giving more experience to kids, especially with the Māori and Pacific background an opportunity to go over there and get exposure, get that experience." 

Veteran basketball coach Jeff Green is a supporter of the competition - and he sees the benefits of what Allen and Berridge have been doing. "It's another pathway for any players that have the opportunity. Right now the Australian NBL just started, the New Zealand NBLs finished, it's another opportunity for those fringe players to show their wares and get out there and do the job."

While Green says the 7-foot tall Māori basketball players have "gone the way of the moa," he is still blown away by what he sees on the court. "The talent available out there is just unbelievable and that's what's good for our Māori players," he says.

A squad will be named at the end of the tournament that will undergo training camps before a final squad of eight are named to participate in the Jump 10 tournament in China next year, with a prize pool of $200,000. While the money is substantial, he says that isn't what the intention is. "The big thing for the players is their exposure into the Asian marketplace where they can pick up contracts and the Asian basketball is just exploding right now."

Steven Adams has participated in HoopNation tournaments in the past, and the hope is for more and more local basketball players to benefit from the idea that the men from the Whanganui river have made a reality and that it will continue to grow.