New San Antonio Spurs basketball signing Aron Baynes has mistakenly been referred to as a 'Kiwi' by some in the US media, but admits he's Australian through and through.
The 2.08m centre, who was born in the New Zealand city of Gisborne, signed with the Spurs last week. He made his NBA debut in a road victory over the Dallas Mavericks, playing the last 48 seconds of the game, before registering seven points and nine rebounds against the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday (NZT).
In his first game for the Spurs, the 26-year-old Baynes confused some in the US media, who labelled him a New Zealander.
Baynes, whose parents are both Kiwi, said his family shifted to Cairns when he was a baby and very much viewed himself as an Australian.
Four years ago, Tall Blacks coach Nenad Vucinic made a pitch to Baynes to get him to commit to New Zealand, but he instead pledged his allegiance to Australia, who he has represented since 2009.
Baynes said he never really had to give the decision too much thought.
''I grew up in Australia and played with a lot of the guys in the Australian team, growing up. Australia was great for me basketball-wise and I wanted to repay them for what they've done for my career,'' he said.
''People can say what they want. I know in my heart, where is home. Any recognition basketball can get in Australia or New Zealand, I'm all for it.''
The former Washington State graduate attracted the attention of NBA scouts after a fine start to the Euroleague season with Slovenian club, Union Olimpija, where he was the top rebounder in the competition.
Baynes said his agent was approached by several NBA teams, but the Spurs were the most obvious choice, given their success over the past decade, and strong Australian connection.
Baynes' Boomers' team-mate Patty Mills is also on the Spurs roster, while former Australian coach, Brett Brown, is one of the team's assistant coaches.
''It's such a great organisation and a great bunch of guys. It's one of those things, I wanted to grab the opportunity with both hands. It's one of the best places for me to learn and develop as a basketballer.''
With 14-time NBA All Star Tim Duncan and fellow Spurs' big men Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner all ahead of him in the rotation, Baynes is likely to only see minimal court-time for San Antonio this season.
He said his goal was to learn off his more experienced team-mates, continue to develop as a player and make the most of any opportunities he received on court.
''We've got a lot of great players and a lot of great creators. I just want to go in there and bring some toughness and energy and be able to finish for them.
''I don't know how many minutes I'll be getting, but when my number is called, I want to go out there and bring energy and do as much as I can.''
- © Fairfax NZ News