The old saying “No one is irreplaceable” doesn't apply to Rising Suns legend Dwayne Tamatea.
Opunake-born Tamatea was the captain and court general of local basketball's golden age. He returns to New Plymouth tomorrow after 25 years in Gisborne.
“Tama” returns to Taranaki with Lisa, Paige, 15, and Jerome, 11, to become a network lead with Pinnacle Midlands Health after giving of himself as a player, coach and chairman of the Gisborne Basketball Association (GBA) during the past quarter of a century.
“On the court, I wanted to make the players around me — and the team — better,” said Tamatea, a three-time national second-division All Star, who once hit 14 three-point shots and 52 points in a 1997 Smokefree Classic Suns trial.
Tamatea came here in 1995 and as point guard lit the fuse for the city's flagship team, the Frank Russell-coached outfit who drew a full house to what was the go-to venue for local sports fans on a Saturday night: the YMCA.
New chair Kylie Turuwhenua-Tapsell managed age-group teams under Tamatea as coach and has been a member of the GBA committee since 2016.
“We will continue to use the skills and knowledge we gained as a group during Tama's tenure,” Turuwhenua-Tapsell said.
“As (former Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti chief executive) Brent Sheldrake once told me, running an organisation isn't all moonlight and canoes — it can be demanding — but Tama's contacts and ability to call on relationships has helped to open doors for our players and teams nationwide.
“He IS irreplaceable.”
Sheldrake's successor as Sport Gisborne Tairawhiti chief executive, keen club basketball player Stefan Pishief, has been here for only four years but appreciates the behind-the-scenes as well as front-of-office work that the outgoing GBA chairman did: “Tama has been a legend for basketball in our region: the effort that he's put in and sacrifices that he's made are to be applauded.”
Whittier, California, native Russell was Suns head coach from 1994 to 1999, having guided the New Plymouth Royals to the Conference Basketball League title at their YMCA — the old “Snake Pit” — in 1992.
“Tama was outstanding at the point or shooting guard and played a key role in the Royals' championship,” said Russell, a former New Zealand National Basketball League coach and Gisborne Boys' High School director of basketball.
“There's no way we'd have won that title (85-82 against Northland in overtime) without him.
“He brought to Gisborne his excellent outside shooting and organisational skills, plus his high basketball IQ, and he instilled a work ethic among talented players.
“We took great pride in beating Auckland teams with a much bigger population base and the Suns reached the final four in two of the years I coached. Tama played so hard and with such passion that I called him The Warrior.
“As a coach in his own right, Tama has the ability to read play, make the right substitutions, and manage the game with the right words at time-outs to motivate his players.
“When I retired from coaching the Suns, I was happy that we continued to be a force, that our gutsy and disciplined style of play rolled on.
“Tama's efforts with mini-ball, getting hundreds of kids playing early, have resulted in Year 9s coming to Gisborne Boys' High School with good fundamentals. When Boys' High under him made the national secondary schools' tournament two years ago — for the first time since 1991 and only the second time in their history — his and that group's efforts were rewarded.”
Gisborne Boys’ High beat Super 8 titans Hamilton BHS 59-55 and Wellington’s Rongotai College 72-64 to place 19th of 24 teams at the national tournament at Palmerston North in 2019. Five years before, Tamatea had taken a Suns outfit seeded eighth to third place at the revamped Conference Basketball League finals, pushing hometown favourites and that year’s champions Tauranga to the brink — 98-92 — in the 1 v 4 semifinal.
Tamatea’s former teammate and original Rising Sun player Errol Wilson, whose son Shaquille Hohipa-Wilson was captain of the 2014 crew, said: “I’m privileged to be one of many to have known Tama and to have seen what he’s done for our community: we can’t thank him enough.
“The only thing he hasn’t delivered is a four-court stadium.
“When he first came to Suns training, he made an impact: a bossy little chap who challenged everyone and was cheeky off the court, which endeared him to the community. He helped me to improve my game. My family and I will miss him.”
Tamatea coached the Rising Suns from 2004 to 2015, a period that included a break in the running of a competition at Conference Basketball League level.
Max Scott was captain of the Tamatea-coached 2018 Boys’ High Senior A team (only the second high school team after Ryan Walters’ GBHS posse in 2008 to win the local men’s club grand final) and led them to the national secondary schools’ tournament a year later.
As a player, Scott can comment on Tamatea’s nous with a basis for comparison, having left GBHS for Rotorua BHS in 2016. He played at Raukura under a noted mentor in Mark Elers and came back to Gisborne Boys’ High in Year 12.
“No other coach I’ve had trusted the decision-making of a team like Tama did,” Scott said.
“When we’d been open to shoot and didn’t know if we should’ve passed the ball, we remembered that he’d put us on the floor to make decisions. No matter how close games got, he kept our heads in it, even when situations were heated.
“If it wasn’t for him, we’d never have got to where we did . . . from our mini-ball days all the way through to competing at a national level.”
Tamatea explained his philosophy: “It’s about teaching the kids the basics, how to play the game, and to be respectful at the same time.”
Former Breakers head coach and NBL champion Jeff Green admired the fighting qualities of Tamatea’s Suns: “They were always underdogs but they played hard, and as for Tama — his contribution to basketball in Gisborne — you couldn’t list it all. You’d have to go a long way to find another volunteer to do so much of that stuff. I’m sure many of the intangibles will be appreciated as part of his legacy there in six to 12 months.
“When you mention Gisborne nationally, by connection his name is the first that comes to mind.”
GBA life member Steph Beattie, who came into the game here 61 years ago during the Poverty Bay Basketball Association era, was president of the association when the Suns came into being in 1989.
“I was very impressed by Dwayne as a player years ago and perhaps if his committee hadn’t done such a good job — a wonderful job — our basketball might not be in the happy, healthy state it’s in today,” she said.
“Dwayne came here at a time when younger players were coming through. Frank Russell was a brilliant coach during that era also; he had great drive, got the best out of the team he had. It was fast, positive stuff. We all loved it.
“Dwayne has carried through from what he did on the court, in further service to the game.”
The last word on Tama goes to Paige and Jerome.
“Dad’s a generous, giving person,” Paige said.
“He welcomes people with open arms and he’s helped a lot of them develop basketball and life skills. I’m proud of him and what he’s accomplished.
“He’s now off on an exciting adventure, to where he can grow and succeed. The time and dedication he takes to accomplish goals is something I aspire to.”
Jerome has had a broad grounding in sport. Three years ago he won the Poverty Bay Year 4/5 Most Promising Batsman cricket award and in 2019 was captain of Weka Ball rugby champions Mangapapa.
“My dad got me into basketball from a young age — to Rising Stars training on Sunday mornings, to tournaments — and I’m proud that he puts time into other people, not just his own kids,” he said.
“It’s been special for me to play a sport that both he and I share a passion for.
“My favourite basketball memory with him was of our (under-11) team playing Tauranga Gold in a round-robin game at Rotorua — we lost by 11 (38-27) — but later beat them in the tournament final, by 16 (39-23).”