Northland wahine a university basketball captain in NYC

By Dean Nathan

She left home as a student and has returned as an evolved athlete.  That is how it is for Kendall Heremaia, who left home on a basketball scholarship four years ago to live in the Bronx of New York City.  Now in her senior year, she is co-captain of the Fordham University women's basketball team and has aspirations to pursue a basketball career.

From the heights of university basketball in New York City to returning home under urgency to be with family during the Covid-19 lockdown.

"I definitely miss the food.  Obviously, family is the easy one to say but if I were to say something else I’d probably say food.  I especially miss the seafood, I am a seafood girl being from Ngāti Wai, Whangaruru.  All of our family loves seafood," says Kendall Heremaia.

"Every time I come home, I have kina, frozen kinas. That's all I had, literally a whole container to myself."

Today her siblings cannot think of anything better than getting one over their sister.

"It's great to be spending time with her again.  When we were growing up I knew she was good and she has developed into a mature basketball player," says tuakana Elliot Heremaia.

"We’d go play and my baby sister would clean me up every time but it was good because she learnt and I learnt.  In my mind, it was me that sharpened her basketball skills and my wish is for her to continue on her pathway."

Five years have passed since we profiled Kendall with her family after she won a basketball scholarship and left home to go and live and study in New York.  She says the American game is played at a much higher intensity.

"They’re definitely more talented than we are.  They’ve I guess a smarter way of doing it when it comes to like wanting to get their way on the court because a lot of the times people are taught to take a charge, or sell the call or just make sure the ref is on your side and stuff like that," says Kendall.

"That's definitely something we weren’t taught to do, we just took it as it is.  Take the hit, take the hit out of the court.  If I get fouled, I got fouled.  Physique-wise they’re way more fitter.  When I got there I died in practice, I died in my first practice.  I literally jumped off the court and started to cry."

"She speaks her mind, she doesn’t hold anything back, she says it straight up and I think that's what they wanted," says tungāne Ricki Heremaia.

"There are some fit girls but she just strives to push harder than them and it's just that mental toughness I think, that's the best thing."

Kendall is currently planning her return to New York in August with the world now in the palm of her hand.

"Being captain is the same as moving to America, it has matured my decision-making as a person and a player as well, definitely as a leader.  I would never have called myself a leader back then but my coaches have definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone and it's definitely for the better.

"Looking at professional players now, it's like I could get there one day and that's what I want to do.  I could get to, hopefully, the WNBA. I could hopefully get to be a professional overseas player. That would be awesome."