Schoolboy 'baller Jack Salt faces tall order
It's been a big year for Tall Blacks schoolboy sensation Jack Salt - and it's still got some legs in it.
Just 17, and in his final year at the North Shore hoops factory known as Westlake Boys High, the towering Salt has found himself a young man in high demand.
He's just played his first season in the NBL, where he performed outstandingly for the Super City Rangers, and has now found his way into a decimated Tall Blacks squad as part of an unprecedented youth wave for their tour to China.
He's also been snapped up as a development player for the New Zealand Breakers' next Australian NBL season, and spent weeks agonising over one of those tricky life choices - whether to commit his future to the champion club, or go the US college route.
For the record, he chose the latter, but admits it was not an easy decision after all the work that has already been put into his development by the Breakers.
That he stands a towering 2.09m - just under 6ft 10in in the old money - and is still growing, helps. The height comes from his maternal grandmother's side of the family, he thinks, and it's all come on rather quickly, as he's grown a foot since starting high school.
He's tall timber, and in the basketball world there's always room for height - and someone who moves as comfortably as this youngster around the court.
He's a lefty, too, which also helps, and is about to undergo a baptism of fire on his first-ever tour with the Tall Blacks. The late withdrawal of Jeremiah Trueman (toe injury), along with Alex Pledger's unavailability, means Salt is now the only legit backup to veteran big man Casey Frank.
In other words, whether coach Nenad Vucinic likes it or not, he's going to have to throw his schoolboy in at the deep end.
"It's been crazy, this year has just gone really fast," says Salt of his rapid rise through the ranks. "I was surprised to even make an NBL team, then when I found out I had a [Tall Blacks] trial, I had no expectations of making it.
"I'm a little nervous, but I'm just going to give it my all when I'm on the court, and I've got guys like Mika [Vukona] and [assistant coach] Pero [Cameron] who will help me out."
It's a busy time for Salt, who is taking his school books on tour with him - anxious not to fall behind in a year when he has college eligibility requirements to meet.
Salt isn't sure which American university he'll attend, but will have plenty of suitors to choose from. Now he's made the decision in principle to head there for the 2014 school year, he's been told scouts will be watching at the schoolboy nationals in October, when Westlake will look to go back-to-back.
"It was a really tough decision, as the Breakers have done so much for me, and [academy guru] Judd Flavell has helped me out so much. It took me a long time but I decided it would be best for me to go to college."
In terms of the tour - the team flies out tonight and will play two internationals against China and play in two tournaments - Salt is keeping things as simple as he can.
"I'm just going go my hardest, and try to absorb all I can, and whatever advice they give me, just try to use it because there are going to be some big guys in the Chinese national team."
Vucinic certainly has the utmost confident in a youngster who looks set to follow in the footsteps of Rob Loe, Isaac Fotu and Steven Adams as the next quality big player to emerge from New Zealand's development system.
"Jack's in a situation where he's being thrown into the deep end," he said. "He's a young boy who all of a sudden has to play but I think it will be good for him."
Tall Blacks: Tom Abercrombie, BJ Anthony, Everard Bartlett, Casey Frank, Jarrod Kenny, Izayah Mauriohooho Le'afa, Jordan Ngatai, Brook Ruscoe, Jack Salt, Reuben Te Rangi, Mika Vukona, Corey Webster.