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The Southland Sharks have added another young talent to its National Basketball League roster with former Junior Tall Black and Wellington College prodigy Sione Helu signing for this season.
The 21-year-old guard is the partner of one of Southland’s favourite sporting exports, netballer Aliyah Dunn and his ties to the deep south go deeper than his Silver Fern-wearing girlfriend.
“I feel super-blessed to be able to get an opportunity down here. When I first met Aliyah, I said to her that with her being from Invercargill all I wanted to do was play for the Sharks. The first year I played basketball the Sharks were in Wellington playing the Saints and I got to watch Shea Ili and Kevin Braswell play and I thought they were the best point guards I had ever seen. Ever since then I wanted to play for the Sharks so I am super grateful that I can pull that uniform on,” Helu said.
He was a late starter to the sport, getting his first taste of basketball at 14 years of age. Coming from a rugby playing family with uncles who played the game professionally he was a promising first five-eighth/fullback at junior level before he committed to basketball as his sport of choice.
It turned out to be a good decision. Helu went toe-to-toe with his heroes Ili and Braswell as a training partner for the Wellington Saints in 2016-17, before earning a scholarship to West Florida College in the United States in 2018, an experience he says was massive in developing his basketball skills and mentality.
“It was a real eye-opener seeing how hungry everyone is over there. For a lot of my team-mates it was their only way out of some tough situations. That had a huge effect on me and I don’t take any opportunity lightly now.’’
Helu returned to New Zealand the day before the country went into lockdown last March and is keeping the option to return to the US open after transferring to be part of Yuba Community College’s renowned basketball programme in California but first, he wants to learn as much as he can from Sharks coach Rob Beveridge.