Published: Thursday, 09 August 2018 10:10
U.S Basketball’s got Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams … and now it’s got another New Zealander with big basketball dreams – Auckland teenager Rionne Papa.
Papa has won a Full Ride Scholarship in the United States and leaves on Monday (August 13) for her new life in Missouri.
The former Auckland Girls’ Grammar School basketballer is bound for Mineral Area College near St. Louis on a scholarship which “covers the lot” - everything from tuition to housing, food and travel. Her dream - to make it all the way to the WNBA and to represent her country in New Zealand’s Tall Ferns.
“If you’re from New Zealand absolutely your ultimate goal has to be making the Tall Ferns team ... putting on the black jersey and representing your country,” says Papa (18).
“And, of course, making the WNBA – that’s a big dream too.
“It hasn’t quite hit me yet – the magnitude of what I’m doing. When I hop on the plane I think it will finally hit me that there’s no going back.”
With Adams proving to all New Zealand age group basketballers that success in the NBA or WNBA is achievable for Kiwi players, it seems anything is possible for Papa. Adams is, of course, an inspiration – but so, too, was the coach who taught his players to believe in themselves.
“I played sports because I was tall for my age and my parents put me in basketball, but it wasn’t until maybe year 11 that our coach, John Subritzky, really pushed on us that we could do this – that we had the ability to go to America on full scholarships.
“And we all just fell in love with the game, the way he taught us how to play basketball. We realised there was a lot of opportunity for us if we pushed ourselves to get there.”
But it hasn’t been easy. Winning and signing her scholarship has taken years of work behind the scenes and a huge amount of work in 2018 after leaving school at the end of last year.
Laughs Rionne: “You’d have to ask my Dad about that! Honestly, so many nights just filling out forms, looking up the best way to do things. Getting my visa. It’s a lot to get through. But we’ve come to the end of all that work now and it’s paying off.”
Her scholarship success comes after Papa’s coach suggested she was talented enough to sign up with a U.S recruiting agency.
“That was at was at the start of year 13,” she explains. “They (the agency) view and send out videos of you playing and all your transcripts from school. And it goes from there – a school or college expresses interest and if you’re a good fit with the team, it moves forward.
“And for us, we just filtered it down to which schools offered the best thing for me personally. It was quite a long process actually.”
Rionne uses the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ a lot. After all, basketball’s a team game. And she credits her success so far very much in-part to her basketball ‘family’ and the sports community within the sport in Auckland.
“The basketball community is pretty funny. If you play against a team you’ll be battling hard-out on the court – you know, giving little jabs and stuff like that – but as soon as you come off the court you’re friends. And over the years we’ve become friends with everyone. It’s really tight. It’s a sisterhood.”
As for what lies ahead now… Papa remembers going on a cruise as a nine or 10 year old and she’s been to Australia for basketball rep tours. But life in America will be a whole other experience – and basketball-wise, she expects the U.S game to be a massive step up. But she reckons she’ll hold her own.
“I’m bracing myself for the speed of the game over there. It’s way faster. We slow down and set the game but they let the ball flow, which I’m not so used to.
“But I’m left handed so that helps a lot. And I’m strong so I can go guard or post, wherever I’m needed. Plus, I think it’s all about your attitude – putting in the effort.”
Papa will hit the ground running once she arrives in Missouri.
“I’ll be staying in a house with three of my team mates. We’ll be doing pre-season training for about two months and then the season starts in October,” she says. “And from there, in junior college, there’s the opportunity to get scouted by Div. one colleges. So that’s everyone’s ultimate goal.”
And this isn’t just a sporting tour of duty. After an initial year of general studies Papa plans to go into business management or accounting, with high grade expectations on student athletes. On court – and off it – Papa plans to make her family back in New Zealand proud.
“I would like to think they’re really proud! Right now it’s all they talk about when they see me … like, it’s the first thing - ‘how’s it going with basketball?’! – and ‘what are you going to do in the States’ … they all say they’re going to come and visit. I hope they do!”