3 Mar 2021

GI Rise: Helping youth chase their basketball dreams

From Champions of the Pacific, 6:09 am on 3 March 2021

A basketball organisation based in east Auckland is opening doors for youth and creating opportunities both on and off the court. 

Glen Innes Rise (GI Rise) was established by brothers Josiah and Sione Maama in 2017. Born and raised in Glen Innes (GI), Josiah said the predominantly Maori and Pasifika community is filled with talent. 

"We're super proud to represent this place," he said. 

"GI is in the bad spotlight in the media a lot of times for crime and whatnot but there's actually so much going on here, there's so much talent here, and if we can effect it in one way, and that's through basketball, we're going to try to do it the best we can."

Brothers Sione (left) and Josiah Maama (right).

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Josiah is the Basketball Director at Dilworth School and Assistant Coach of the Auckland Huskies, while Sione is Head of Basketball at Pakuranga College. 

They hold free youth sessions for locals to play basketball on Wednesdays. Every other day, between working full-time jobs, they're holding sessions for players chasing higher basketball dreams.

Sione admits the results are starting to show. 

GI Rise holds free weekly basketball sessions for youth in East Auckland.

GI Rise holds free weekly basketball sessions for youth in East Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Talei Anderson

"Recently it's been pretty cool because we've seen a lot of the boys get NBL contracts and some of the guys getting college scholarships, like a Maori fella from Otahuhu, Anzac Rissetto, he's like killing it in America now," said Sione. 

"When he was here during the Covid pandemic I was training with him every day, so to see that translated onto the court it's a great feeling knowing that you've been a small help in that."

"I think for Sione it's massive excitement because he's kind of like the island farmer putting the taro down and then reaping the fruit and the rewards from all the hard work," Josiah added. 

"For me honestly, it's kind of expected. When I hear that news I'm like, you've been in the gym for 20 hours this week, you've been looking after your mum in the hospital, you've been studying your ass off this week, I'm not surprised."

Despite their connection to East Auckland, players from all over the city come to train with the pair, including rugby players Taufa Funaki, Tanielu Tele'a and Salesi Rayasi. 

Josiah said it's encouraging to see athletes give other sports a try. 

"Our most successful athletes are the ones that play multiple sports, and islanders do that naturally," he said. 

"Salesi is from Wellington but we claim him in GI when he plays for Auckland...and whenever these guys are off season they'll be like 'can we come and shoot at your gym or whatever' and we're like 'of course come through.' It's cool to see kind of a culture that's been transparent between rugby and other sports, but it's cool for these kids that idolize them to see them trying out basketball as well."

The group have come off the back of a successful year winning the YMCA Challenger Series for the second year in a row. They placed third at 'Hoop Nation -  equivalent to a national club competition - and were crowned the champion of champions at the end of year competition. 

They're the best in the city and the best in the region, but Sione said it's not all about the on-court success.  

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Photo: Supplied

"We get together with our boys and we just open up about our everyday feelings. For men, especially Polynesian men, it's not cool to speak about your feelings. So that's something we're trying to create where they can be open and honest not be afraid to be open," said Sione.

"We get lots of quality work done in the session but a lot of the best and most valuable times are before the sessions and after sessions, and it's just talking about what happened in the NBA, How's your daughter? How's your mum? How's that girl you're trying to pursue and date kind of thing, and it's those little talks and those relationships that build our programme," added Josiah.  

Josiah said GI Rise is founded on their Tongan values, with a mindset to always give back. 

"Growing up Tongan, and like a lot of Polynesian people will know, everything's family and everything's hands on. We've been with family recently and there's a million dishes to do at a big family event, everyone plugs in and everyone gets their hands dirty, there's all this food to cook and it's like we grew up that way so that's the only way we know," he said. 

Family and Tongan values are the backbone of GI Rise.

Family and Tongan values are the backbone of GI Rise. Photo: Supplied

"We talk about service. We're serving people, we've got to give the best quality we can and that's just the typical Kolonga, Kolomotu'a Tonga thing that we grew up with...we know we're in a place where Tongan kids and island kids in general and people from GI look up to us and so, if we're in a place like that, we've got to do it justice, we have a responsibility to make sure that we do the best we can in this situation."

For these brothers, the love they have for basketball goes far beyond its value as a sport. It's a passion to help youth develop as competitors, teammates, but most importantly, to be leaders in their community. 

"[These kids] mean everything, as cheesy as it sounds, they do. We talk to them pretty much every day and we talk about them every day, just monitoring their situation and what issues and stuff they might be going through," said Josiah.  

"My dream for the kids is like, we can say NCAA and college and NBL, and yeah 100 percent that's what we want, but we just want the best experience for these kids. 

"Their prime might be winning the YMCA Challenger Series and might even be just winning the local rec league season but as long as they're confident in that space, they can perform to their best and we help them the most we can, then that's kind of all we can hope for and wish for them in whatever level they're at."

GI Rise are back to back champions of the YMCA Challenger Series title and were crowned the best club team of the year for the second year in a row.

GI Rise are back to back champions of the YMCA Challenger Series title and were crowned the best club team of the year for the second year in a row. Photo: Supplied