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Hoop dream comes true


She is set to take a life-changing stride.

Olivia Tuipulotu-Collier has signed a two-year contract to play basketball for Central Wyoming College (CWC) in the United States, and — possible Covid-19 delays notwithstanding — August can’t come soon enough.

“Sport — in my case, basketball — is an awesome vehicle to interact with people, and I’m ready to make the move,” she said.

“I love the physicality and intensity of close games, big crowds and big moments.”

Tuipulotu-Collier is one of the promising athletes to have established links to junior colleges in the US through Palmerston North-based agency Lead Scholarships.

The offer of a contract depends largely on school grades, potential as a student-athlete and the type of skill set prospective schools require.

Within 24 hours of her contacting Lead Scholarships a fortnight ago and submitting recordings of her play for Rotorua Girls’ High at the 2018 national tournament, 10 US schools had made inquiries.

The aspiring ’baller took the CWC feedback on board.

“They said I was a dominant forward who could be versatile for them,” she said.

“My being able to play in the low-post as well as hit the outside shot was perfect for their play-set.”

Nineteen-year-old Olivia has a sister, Vanessa, 30, and a brother, Ceejay, 26. They are the children of Tewaiora Collier-Wijohn and Kelemete Tuipulotu.

Olivia was born in Rotorua and attended Omarumutu School, Rotorua Intermediate, Rotorua Girls’ High School (RGHS) for Years 9 to 11 and Gisborne’s Campion College (Y12) before returning to Rotorua Girls’ High in Y13.

Her father played rugby on the right wing for Bay of Plenty club Rotoiti; her mother played netball at goal attack for the North Island divisional team and New Zealand development squad.

As a netballer, Olivia was good enough to play goal shoot for the RGHS Premier 1s but caught the basketball “bug” at the age of 13. She represented Rotorua at under-15, u17 and u19 level as well as the Gisborne u19, Waikato u17 and Waikato u23 teams.

Her Rotorua u15 team won the national championship and Anthony Corban — head coach of the champion Waikato u23s in 2017 — remembers she was so keen to play she spent 20 hours travelling to take up the opportunity.

“Olivia bused from Gisborne to join us at Porirua, played power forward for us there among future Tall Ferns, and had a blast,” Corban said.

“She saw the importance of fitness, recovery and how teams prepared, and learned from older, more experienced players.”

Corban, a former Basketball New Zealand coach of the year, spoke highly of her work ethic and strength against defenders close to the hoop.

“I get to the rim, give a few bumps in the paint and that helps me on-court,” Tuipulotu-Collier said.

She will most likely play with and against taller timber for her new school, CWC (nicknamed The Rustlers), a Riverton, Wyoming, public community college of 5502 students. Its women’s basketball team play in the nine-team North Division of Region Nine, in the first division of the National Junior College Athletic Association competition.

Olivia Tuipulotu-Collier will live on campus, at a Wyoming public community college

Olivia Tuipulotu-Collier will live on campus, study for an associate degree in sports medicine and business, and play for third-year head coach Lindsey Fearing.

CWC finished sixth in the North Division last season, having won eight games and lost 20 between October 2019 and February 2020.

Tuipulotu-Collier will be on a 12-to-14-player roster. Her goal is to win a four-year scholarship to play in an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division 1 or 2 university.

She has physical presence, and can handle the ball and score.

Coach Fearing has said that she will at times play as a guard.

Rotorua basketball icons Darrell and Sue Pene are among the biggest influences in the game for Olivia.

Sue Pene said: “In her last year at Rotorua Girls’ High she was our captain and only Year 13 player. She made sure people were OK on and off the court. She was a great motivator of her team, refereed school leagues and club basketball, and also coached with her RGHS teammates at our Hoopstars holiday camps.

“She knew how to deliver a development programme for kids five to 13 — over six hours a day for five straight days —that they’d enjoy.

“Olivia’s very passionate about basketball and very committed.”

The player, herself, appreciates the value of such a broad base and springboard in the game.

“Getting the fundamentals down early on has made a difference, as has watching myself play, analysing what I’ve done wrong to see what I can do better and what my options are the next time I’m in a similar situation,” Olivia said.

“Also, being exposed to theory from knowledgeable people has helped my basketball IQ to grow, and helped me to become versatile. I’ve improved my footwork, and I can play what’s in front of me.

“It wasn’t until I was 16 that I knew I could make teams — so I put more effort in — but I took a break from basketball last year. That time off was good for me. Many people, athletes included, sometimes feel stuck. I’ve been through that. My family and my faith helped me a lot then.

“I don’t know how far I can go, but my goal is to get a contract somewhere overseas after college.

“I’d love to see how far I’m capable of going.”

LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT: Olivia Tuipulotu-Collier signs the contract to play basketball for Central Wyoming College in the United States. Picture by Paul Rickard