Southland Sharks veteran Hayden Allen is in his 20th season lining up in New Zealand National Basketball League. The Southland Times' Logan Savory caught up him to reflect on his career and look at just what keeps him going.
As a 17-year-old in 1998, Hayden Allen opened his National Basketball League account.
After impressing with his school Kings High in Dunedin, Allen was whisked into the Otago Nuggets squad and introduced onto New Zealand basketball's domestic stage.
He stepped onto the court for the first time against the Auckland Stars - a team which featured another teenager and future New Zealand basketball legend in Paul Henare.
Allen recalls the game well and the excitement which was attached to it.
"I was at school at that stage and I think the highlight of it was just warming up, funnily enough.
"I had grown up watching the Nuggets, and my dad had been the coach, so to play in the NBL was a bit of a dream.
"Just warming up in front of my family and friends was awesome. Obviously as you go on you want to play more and I've been fortunate enough to do that."
Nineteen years later Allen is still playing in the National Basketball League, and the passion for basketball still burns as bright as ever.
He now suits up in orange for the Southland Sharks and has amassed a remarkable 285 NBL games for the different teams he has played for - Otago Nuggets, Waikato Pistons, Auckland Stars, Auckland Pirates, Harbour Heat, Super City Rangers, and the Sharks.
He has scored over 4000 NBL points and his 285 games is just 12 games behind his current coach Judd Flavell's 297 he played in the NBL.
At 37-years-old - and now with a family of three young children - just what motivates Allen to pack up and shift south from Auckland to Invercargill to line up in yet another NBL campaign?
"One of the reasons I've stuck with it is you enjoy the road trips, you enjoy the bus rides, and the camaraderie between the boys, as much as you do the playing side of it.
"[Playing] is just a small portion of what you do as a team, the playing side is just 40 minutes," Allen said.
"I think I'll be a lifer, I'll keep playing until I have to stop really, my dad is similar. I get an itch I want to scratch it.
"I like winning and competing I guess, and I just enjoy being part of a team."
Allen's perspective on life took a twist in 2011 when he was involved in a horrific accident at Auckland Harbour Bridge.
He wasn't wearing a seatbelt and at high speed was flung through the window of the car.
The reality is, he looked death right in the eyes.
The accident left him with many injuries, including 150 stitches to his head.
But in reality he actually got away lightly given the nature of the crash and the fact he is still here to tell the story.
Three days after the accident his son Reggie was born. A year later he was selected in the Tall Blacks for the first time.
Allen now takes nothing for granted.
"That was an accident where I was in the wrong, and I completely understand that. I put my hand up straight away.
"It was one of these things you live and learn, and I learned a tough one with that.
"Fortunately I'm still here to tell the story about it... After it you look at life a bit differently, my son was born three days after that, so something like that hits pretty hard."
Allen has won NBL titles with the Waikato Pistons in 2002 and the Auckland Pirates in 2012.
He would love to add a third to that list this year with the Sharks under the guidance of Flavell.
"Judd was one of the reasons I came down really. I have played probably 15 years either with, against, or being coach by him.
"Also [the Southland Sharks] are also arguably the most well-run association in the country, especially the NBL franchise side of things.
"With the resources here we have a good bunch of guys and they are all for the greater good of trying to get to the game where you win all the marbles."
On Friday night the Sharks will square-off against the Wellington Saints in Invercargill.
The Saints are the early season favorites and Allen respects that. However, he likes what he has seen in the Sharks' 2017 setup to date this season.
"One good thing we have here is we've got a bunch of guys all across the board going in the same direction. We are not caught up in how many minutes we get.
"There is no I in team, and this is probably the team that replicates it more than anywhere I've been.
"We are a defensive-minded team, we fall back on what Juddy's mantra is and the quote that 'defense wins championships'."
AT A GLANCE
What: National Basketball League
Who: Southland Sharks v Wellington Saints
Where: ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill
When: Friday, 7pm
Interview and image courtesy of The Southland Times