McBirney-Griffin back with Nuggets

Otago Nuggets signing Akiva McBirney-Griffin gets in some practice at the Edgar Centre yesterday....
Otago Nuggets signing Akiva McBirney-Griffin gets in some practice at the Edgar Centre yesterday. PHOTO LINDA ROBERTSON
Akiva McBirney-Griffin finished his rookie season as a champion and he would like to repeat that effort this season.

The 18-year-old forward has signed on for a second season with the Otago Nuggets.

And why not? The first season went tremendously well. He helped the Nuggets win their maiden National Basketball League title and he has a good relationship with head coach Brent Matehaere.

The pair have teamed up before, when McBirney-Griffin, who is from Hamilton, was playing for the national under-17 team Matehaere coached.

The teenager, who measures in at 2.06m and 100kg, has a bright future ahead. He has been offered sporting scholarships in the United States and, Covid-19 willing, will take up one of the opportunities in August.

But before he does that he will have a chance to suit up for the Nuggets again and is looking forward to building on his game.

He is working on getting stronger so he can " bang with the big bodies" and on improving his outside shooting.

"I’ve worked a lot on that this summer and just to stretch the floor and help the offence cover a bit of space," he said.

McBirney-Griffin grew into his frame late, so he retains a lot of athleticism smaller players enjoy.

While he is committed to basketball these days, he grew up wanting to be an All Black. His father Aaron Enoka played professional rugby in England and France.

"But eventually a teacher saw I was tall and threw me into the basketball team and from there I just developed a love of the game and have been playing ever since."

McBirney-Griffin is staying with Otago Nuggets general manager Angela Ruske while he gets settled, but may end up flatting with some team-mates.

The Nuggets roster is starting to take shape nicely. The franchise has already secured the services of key big man Sam Timmins, and Pafe Momoisea.

Darcy Knox and Matthew Bardsley are confirmed returnees from last year’s championship squad.

And the Nuggets have pencilled in a couple of imports. Australian Geremy McKay and American Isaiah Moss have signed, but may not be able to get into the country due the New Zealand’s border restrictions.

The three Js — Jordan Hunt, Jarrod Kenny and Jordan Ngatai — are playing for the Cairns Taipans in the Australian league, while Kane Keil has signed with the Wellington Saints and guard Benoit Hayman has returned to play his third season in Switzerland.

The Nuggets’ opening match is against the Wellington Saints at the Edgar Centre on April 24.


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