Tall Blacks? Tai Wynyard reaches for the NBA

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 13/04/2014
Tai Wynyard
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
TAI WYNYARD: "It's going to be pretty amazing," the young basketballer said of his opportunity to play at the Jordan Classic.

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When Tai Wynyard was 12 a teacher asked whether he could one day see himself playing for the Tall Blacks. The lanky youngster arched an eyebrow and shot back: "Tall Blacks? I'm going to play in the NBA."

That dream is now one step closer to fruition for the 16-year-old Rangitoto College basketballer who tomorrow jets to New York to line up alongside the crème of the world's high school hoops crop at the prestigious Jordan Brand Classic.

As in Michael Jordan. Yes, Wynyard will get to meet His Airness among a swag of hoops glitterati in attendance. "It's going to be pretty amazing," the youngster says.

Wynyard, already a towering 2.04m and still growing, is treading a path blazed by Kiwi Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Steven Adams, from the hardwood of New Zealand to the bright lights of the biggest league in the world.

It was a break just like this, to an equivalent adidas-sponsored event, that propelled Adams on a course that eventually landed him at the Thunder as the 12th pick overall in last year's draft, drawing a rookie salary of $US2.04m ($NZ2.4m).

Adams showed it can be done, working his way out of Kenny McFadden's Wellington academy into the bright lights of the NBA, via a year at the University of Pittsburgh; Wynyard, this oversized chip off the old block, is just following the pathway.

That's the reality for basketballers the world over now - if you're good enough, and work hard enough, you can get there. Wynyard seemed clear on that when he was a pre-teen interviewing for a spot in Rangitoto's sports academy.

Mum Karmyn, herself a good enough basketballer in her day to earn a scholarship to play at the University of Alaska Anchorage, recalls that day vividly.

"The teacher said ‘Tai, do you see yourself one day playing for the Tall Blacks?' Tai said: ‘Tall Blacks? I'm going to play in the NBA.' I just chuckled to myself."

To understand the drive of this young man, you need to get a handle on his family life. Dad Jason Wynyard, who stands an imposing 1.96m, is the world's most dominant timber sports exponent with more global titles and achievements than most of us have had hot dinners.

Karmyn, who's 1.90m, also holds world titles in woodchopping.

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