Photo courtesy of Photowellington.com/Masanori Udagawa
One of the exciting parts about our job as professional athletes is the opportunity to play in so many different parts of the world. I knew I wanted to play during the NBL off-season. I had heard of many players that had gone across the ditch to play in the NZNBL. Once I got the call about playing for the Super City Rangers, everything moved pretty quickly! In less than a week I was packed up and moved out of my apartment, boarding a flight to Auckland. My Cairns teammate Nnanna Egwu had also signed with the team, it was nice to be heading over the ditch with a past (and now future) teammate. It's been a ton of fun over here. I've learnt a lot about a culture we should all be more familiar with.
We'd just sat down for dinner as a team after a game in Wellington. The last time we'd played here we were embarrassed by 36 points, one of the biggest losses I’ve had in many years. This time around we were a lot more competitive, but still didn’t quite meet their standard. I consider myself a pretty competitive person and I’m not always in the greatest mood after a loss. Fortunately, there was food and my Aussies were taking on the Kiwis in the Rugby League Anzac Test.
We had spent the day talking about the odds of the game; it was a pretty unanimous consensus that the Aussies would win. There was an obvious lack of enthusiasm in the room in the early stages of the match. It wasn’t until the Aussies made their first mistake. Everybody from the GM, to the youngest player on our team started throwing sledges, and suddenly the table lit up. I start to realize that this exact scenario is something that both cultures thrive in.
I know it’s blasphemy to even suggest the idea that the Aussies and Kiwis are alike in any sporting realm, but I think it’s that competitiveness that is our biggest similarity. Put some Rugby on, bring some food and drinks out and a lot of sports fans from both countries are in their element.
Ask most Aussies which kind of Rugby game they would prefer and you’ll most likely get a League game as their answer. Ask the same question to a Kiwi and it’s going to be an All Blacks game. Funny that!
As there are similarities there are some major differences with the two cultures. Just in my short time here in New Zealand I haven’t failed to notice.
When arriving I didn’t really know what to expect, only that I might need to wear a jumper for the first time since leaving Cairns. One thing I wasn’t accustomed to; Island Time.
Damn, when I was in ballin' in Spain, I thought they were laid back off the court! Cairns also has its own unique kind of pace with no traffic, a relaxing esplanade and a lot of great places to eat.
Now I’m living in Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand with a population of around one and a half million and it’s even more chill. Normally, big cities have a faster pace with more traffic meaning people are constantly in a rush. It’s certainly not the case here. It still makes me laugh how some people stroll into practice so casually after being in bumper to bumper traffic. Five minutes early or five minutes late, their stride doesn’t change.
I had to ask a few people about it because it’s something that I didn’t quite understand. This is how Island Time was explained to me (please if there is more to it I would love to know). It’s about what’s possible and who’s coming. Essentially you come whenever you can make it, but it’s important to bring somebody with you. It’s about family and community, and about making sure that everybody is included. If this means that you’re a little late in the process, it’s really not a big deal to anybody.
I’ve always been taught that to be late is rude. It’s just because of the society that I’ve grown up in. It’s kind of refreshing to be around a culture that values the people and relationships more than the event itself.
There’s something special about seeing family after being apart for a long amount of time. I know through my experiences that coming home to see my parents and siblings was always exciting, especially once we were all together at home. Something I have noticed, and loved about the Maori people is the interactions at airports.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Grandma, Dad or the little brother flying back into town, it seems like everybody comes out to greet them. The emotional embraces are so great to see; everybody hugging and laughing. It’s not like that doesn’t happen from time to time in Australia, but I’m talking about family after family bouncing off the walls to wrap their arms around each other. They aren’t embarrassed to show how much they missed being around them, and nor should they be. So much love!
It’s hard to be a grumpy Aussie when everybody else around you is so happy. It’s like when we go to Yum Cha as a team (it may or may not have been for a pre-game meal). Just being around the guys, telling stories and eating together can turn an average morning around pretty quickly. There is this constant theme of enjoying company.
On the topic of food, I’m not going to lie, bakeries have always had a special place in my heart. As a child, there were only four things that I needed to see in a shop for me to get excited about eating there. There had to be meat pies, sausage rolls, caramel tarts and some kind of apple pie. If available, you were legit.
Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not eating all of these at the one time (well, most times). Nnanna Egwu and I arrived in New Zealand on a Friday night. On the first night there wasn’t much time to do anything but sleep as we were heading to pre-season tournament at 7am the next morning. On the way, a 5-hour journey, we pulled over at The BakeHouse. This place had everything. It was like I was a little kid again. It’s the type of place where you walk in wanting a juice, and walk out with two pies, a sausage roll and a coke.
I was introduced to a feijoa. For those that are as uneducated as I am in the fruit department, the feijoa is supposed to have a sweet taste. Its tree is grown in a lot of backyards here in New Zealand, and is in season from March through June. My first and probably last experience was a mouthful of bitterness, it was like it was unripe. Either I got the runt of the litter, or the fruit lady punked me. Probably both.
The NZNBL is a fun league to play in, I’ve really enjoyed my time over here. The Wellington Saints have dominated the league, but each and every week presented a physical challenge. As mentioned before, these guys are super competitive when it comes to their sports, and basketball is no different.
The sheer size and strength of some of the players over here has you feeling like you’ll end up on your arse most nights at some stage of the game. The games can reach a pretty frenetic pace. This style suits the way we play. We pride ourselves on fast ball movement.
What I’ve loved about playing for the Super City Rangers is the people at the club. Everybody has been extremely helpful, and I can’t thank them enough for being so accommodating. As imports we have a responsibility to perform for the team. It makes it a lot more enjoyable when you can sit down with anybody from the group for a chat. Whether it is coach taking us out for meals after practice, or just conversing with any of our roommates. This team likes being around each other, even if it just means sitting in a hotel room trying to pronounce the words on MaoriTV!
Our coach Jeff Green has stories for days, and if you throw in two of the most experienced players in the league, Dillon Boucher and Lindsay Tait, lunch and dinner turns into story time as soon as we break bread. It’s been an incredible learning experience playing with Dill. His ability to quickly draw up a counter move to get a particular guy a shot is first class.
I definitely feel like a better player after finishing my time here, and I’m ready for any challenge that presents itself.
Overall, this has been an eye-opening experience for me. A chance to live in a new country, improve my game and swap stories with people from different backgrounds. The way the Rangers have made the transition so easy has been a huge help. I heard a lot of different things about the league from a number of people, it goes to show that you’ll never know until you experience it yourself.
While I didn’t get to explore the country as much as I wanted to, I still enjoyed showing my family who came to visit me around Auckland. If you haven’t made the trip across the ditch, there’s a lot of cool stuff to see over here. I would love to hear some suggestions for the next time I travel to New Zealand though, so feel free to share. I wish the best of luck to my kiwi brothers, and I’ll see you soon Cairns!
Mitchell McCarron is a professional basketball player, currently representing the Cairns Taipans in the National Basketball League. He is also a Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate.
Follow Mitchell McCarron on Instagram @m_mccarron