Fifita has what it takes – Size, strength and talent in growing measure

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The future of basketball is here — meet Nale Fifita. Tall, talented and on the fast track to success. Fifita (14), a year 9 pupil at Waitaki Boys’ High School, has been selected to trial for the New Zealand under­16 team in Auckland next month. For any basketballer south of the Waitaki River, earning national recognition is a major achievement. A 14­year­old kid from Oamaru being considered good enough for a national age group two years older? Remarkable. ‘‘I was just shocked when they told me I had a trial,’’ Fifita said.  ‘‘I’m pretty nervous.’’  Standing about 1.85m tall, Fifita plays centre but casually mentions he also enjoys directing play from the point guard position. He loves to attack the rim and get physical in the paint, and played a key role for the North Otago boys team that played at the New Zealand under­15 championships earlier this year.  Like any good young sportsman, he has been soaking up the advice and guidance of coaches — in this case, North Otago great Brian de Geest and Waitaki Boys’ dean and coach Ian Cathcart. ‘‘I’ve learned a lot from them. Just to be humble, work hard, and practise lots.’’ Fifita also plays rugby, at No 8, but it seems basketball could be his ticket to an elite sporting future. He plans to do as well as he can at school before, hopefully, pursuing a college hoops career in the United States. Fifita enjoys following the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls in the NBA. And, surprisingly, given his tender age, his favourite player is the great Charles Barkley, the 11­time NBA all­star who peaked in the early 1990s. Cathcart said he had coached lots of players over the years and Fifita was as good a prospect as he had seen. ‘‘Nale’s got great size and strength for his age. He has a couple of brothers around 6­8 [2.03m] so he’s going to grow, which is exciting,’’ Cathcart said. ‘‘New Zealand coaches love his size, strength and raw skill set. He has an outstanding ability to finish in transition. ‘‘What makes him special is he is so coachable.  ‘‘Combine that with his work ethic and athletic ability, and he has a huge future in basketball.’’