Star Southland signing fine about missing NBA

BY BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 18/02/2010
Southland Sharks recruit Martin Iti
BARRY HARCOURT/Southland Times
TALL ORDER: Former United States collegiate star and aspiring Tall Black Martin Iti meets up with 2-year-old Sharks fan Kate Cunningham at Stadium Southland.

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Star Southland Sharks basketball signing Martin Iti says he harbours no ill feeling about not reaching the lofty heights of the NBA.

Iti aspired to play in the best basketball league in the world ever since he was 15 and moved from Australia to the United States to attend high school and college and further himself – but the dream failed to materialise.

In 2004, after his first year in college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, he put his name in the NBA draft before later deciding to withdraw. Two years ago, after transferring to New Mexico State University, Iti again entered the NBA draft but was not picked up, which left his promising career in limbo.

The 2.13m giant, who is still only 26, said he holds no bitterness and was still optimistic about where his professional career was heading.

"(Playing in the NBA) was one of my goals at the time, but as of now I'm just enjoying playing ball."

Iti said the chance to return Down Under and play for the new Southland Sharks franchise was one he couldn't refuse.

The Australian-born centre is also eligible for the Tall Blacks through his Kiwi mother (his father is Nigerian) and admitted he would love to be part of New Zealand's squad for the World Championships in Turkey later this year.

"Most definitely it would be great to play for the Tall Blacks – that would be a blessing. Right now my concentration is on the Sharks and trying to get to the promised land. I'm hoping to win it all. With the Tall Blacks, if it happens, it happens."

Iti arrives at the Sharks with some pretty rich credentials. During his collegiate career in the United States he matched up against many players, who have gone on to play in the NBA, and ESPN labelled him the eighth best recruit in the nation in his year at high school, at Mount Zion Christian Academy, in North Carolina

"It was kind of nice to be there right behind (now NBA All Star) LeBron James."

Iti was widely regarded in the US for his powerful shot-blocking ability and should also provide the Sharks with a dominant inside presence and plenty of rebounds. He has not been known for his scoring ability throughout his career, but said that was something he wanted to change with the Sharks.

"I want to try and be more of a scorer this year. I can score, when I want to. I need to be more accurate and be the go to guy."

Some sceptics have said the Sharks will find the going tough in their debut season, but Iti had some stern words for the doubters.

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"It's nice going in as the underdogs. We definitely want to try and make some noise and make the playoffs and try to quieten all the haters."

Meanwhile, the NBL yesterday confirmed a new sponsorship deal with Bartercard worth more than $500,000, which will help give the league financial security for the next three years. That news was tempered by the revelation that foundation club the Auckland Stars had been suspended from this year's competition for failing to pay outstanding debts.

The NBL, which tips off on March 4, will now be a 10-team competition.

THAT'S BIG

2.31m: Gheorghe Muresan (tallest player in NBA history)
2.16m: Shaquille O'Neal (legendary NBA center)
2.13m: Martin Iti (Southland Sharks signing)
2.06m: Southland high jump record set by Queenstown's Gideon Barnard
2.03m: Joe Tuineau (Southland rugby lock)
2.03m: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers NBA superstar)
1.94m: Daneka Wipiiti (Southern Steel shooter)
1.83m: Jimmy Cowan (Southland and All Black halfback)

- The Southland Times

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