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Te Rangi falls in love with basketball again

In quick time Reuben Te Rangi went from being paraded as New Zealand basketball's brightest stars to being unwanted. He talked with Logan Savory about that difficult period and also his encouraging return to the top.

As a teenager, the compliments and bold predictions flowed for basketball prodigy Reuben Te Rangi.

He had barely left school and he was playing for the Breakers and whisked into the Tall Blacks.

There seemed to be very few speed bumps put in front of the Auckland Grammar product as he delivered things on the court which most other basketball players his age could simply hope to do.

But that ride as a young basketball star came crashing down in double quick time highlighting the fickle nature of sport in the pro ranks.

In a series of events, Te Rangi went from living and breathing basketball to going through an ugly break up with the sport he loves so much.

In 2014 Te Rangi was cut from the Southland Sharks following an off-court incident in New Plymouth.

In the evening he helped mastermind one of the New Zealand National Basketball League's greatest ever comebacks when the Sharks overcame a 30-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Taranaki Mountain Airs.

However, in the early hours of the next morning, the celebrations turned sour.

Te Rangi and two other Sharks players were involved in a serious assault.

As a result, the then 19-year-old's time with Southland came to a disappointing end and he also paid another price through missing Tall Blacks selection for a trip to Spain.

The Breakers retained him for the Australian Basketball League season but for whatever reason, it seemed he still couldn't find peace. By the end of that season, the Breakers let him go as he struggled to make a statement on court.

A disappointing NZNBL campaign with the Super City Rangers followed last year and again the Tall Blacks decision-makers overlooked him.

What was required was some soul-searching.

"I went from a 17-year-old that played basketball for fun to being paid to play basketball and having a lot of expectations on me.

"From a 17-year-old to a 21-year-old I guess I didn't know how to handle those expectations or those pressures that was put on me," he said.

"I had two months off and I could step back and say, 'this is actually what I want to do, and this is what I have to deal with if I want to play basketball and get paid to do it'."

"When I first started playing I played because I loved the game, in that period I lost the passion for the game. It was a blessing for me not to make those teams because I kind of had to step back and ask why am I doing this.

"Over that month or two I had off I realised it was what I want to do and it is my job. I did find the love for the game again and the passion.

"It is easy for me to come in and shoot now, it is easy for me to come into the gym."

What followed that period of soul-searching was a life-line from the Brisbane Bullets to play in the Australian Basketball League again and he was able to find his spark again.

Then, in somewhat of a redemption story, he made a return to the organisation where his first stint ended in messy fashion - the Southland Sharks.

Southlanders love to be loved and when the province's image takes a hit, for whatever reason, they take it personally.

Te Rangi was well aware of that, but on the flipside he said the community can also be very supportive.

"It was a difficult time for me and my family, but also for the Southland community. But Jill [Bolger, Southland Sharks general manager] never turned her back on me, she always supported me.

"Whenever I came down [to Invercargill, with another team] she was always there to give me a hug and a kiss and say hello.

"That was one of the things I saw and thought to myself when this opportunity did come up I want to come back to Southland.

"When I came back down here they were here with open arms, it is kind of the beautiful thing about this place."

Southland has turned out to be the ideal destination for Te Rangi as he goes about continuing to recapture that brilliance he showed as a teenager.

He has not just been, arguably, the Southland Sharks' most consistent player this season, he has also been one of the best in the entire league.

Te Rangi said the three-month stint in Invercargill had been perfect for him.

"I live with one of my team mates and I can go to the gym every day. I get to go shoot the ball whenever I want and I get to use the gym whenever I want."

As a result, Te Rangi is fitter and stronger than he probably has ever been.

"It's not that I've been in the gym 24/7, but when you get a bit older you get a bit wiser. When I was younger I could eat whatever I wanted to and go out and play.

"I've just been watching what I eat, it has kind of done me wonders and it is a bit of a chain effect.

"My body looks better, I feel better, and I'm fitter."

Another step in Te Rangi's basketball rebuild would be regaining a spot in the Tall Blacks team. But first, he has the 2017 National Basketball League season to finish up.

The Sharks will finish the round-robin season against Hawke's Bay in Invercargill at 3pm on Sunday.

They will then head to Tauranga where they will take on either the Super City Rangers or Canterbury Rams in the semifinals on Friday.

The hope will be to then play in the NBL final the next day.

While Sunday's game against Hawke's Bay has nothing riding on it, in terms of the final standings after the round-robin series, Te Rangi said the Sharks were focused on a good performance.

"It's one of those games where you get to tweak the bolts, see what's loose and what needs fixed.

"It's a game we are definitely going out to win and show why we are second on the table."


What: National Basketball League

Who: Southland Sharks v Hawke's Bay

Where: ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill

When: Sunday, 3pm

Article and image courtesy of The Southland Times

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