Inside the Shark Cage with Morgan Natanahira – Part I
Most of us don’t think too deeply into what goes into a sporting event, the behind the scenes organization, the venue, the sounds, lights, refreshments, the officials, the clubs, the coaches, managers, doctors – and for most people that sadly also includes the athletes. Who hasn’t sat behind an ‘arm chair’ expert who fires off ‘advice’ to the players as to how it should be done? Yes, true, I’ve been guilty on many occasions to ‘suggest’ to an official that he should perhaps visit the nearest Spec Savers but to ‘hackle’ an athlete? Nope, that’s not going to happen. I’m no athlete myself, I haven’t been on a football pitch for over two years, and when I do get back I’d be at best an average amateur with a day time job.
But growing up in a footballing family has certainly installed in me a healthy dose of admiration to those who do make sport their full time job. This admiration was solidified recently when I was lucky enough to sit down with SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks’ player (and assistant Coach) Morgan Natanahira and ask him what it really is like to be a professional basketballer. But for those few people who may be asking “Who’s Morgan?” we best do a little ‘recap’ for you all.
Morgan’s story is a little unlike others you may have heard, he wasn’t the young five year old glued to his basketball, and yet when you see him on the court it looks incredibly ‘natural’ to him to be doing what he does. Born in Queenstown and schooled in Dunedin, the weather in Southland came as no great shock to him when he moved down in 2013 to play his first season for the Southland Sharks. While living in Dunedin Morgan played basketball for Otago Boys High School before going on to play for Harbour Heat (in North Harbour, Auckland) and the Harbour U21’s team. It wasn’t long before Morgan made his International debut, and was part of the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship that was held in Auckland that year. He played for the Junior Tall Blacks for three years at International level so not surprising that his next stop was with the NZ Breakers Development Squad. Now off course the NZ Breakers at this time had another player in their ranks by the name of Paul Henare who at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season became the first Breaker player to have his number (32) retired. For those who may not know, the NZ Breakers play in the Australian National Basketball League whose playing season runs from October to April, while the New Zealand Basketball League season runs from April to July. These playing seasons make it possible for one player to play in both Leagues. Morgan made an overland sideways move to join the Hawke’s Bay ‘Hawks’ (yep, say that one fast!) in the NZ NBL season in 2011 – and guess who the coach was? Yes, none other than Paul Henare The ‘Hawke’s Bay Hawks’ didn’t do too shabbily either, making it to the finals in 2011 (only to lose to the Wellington Saints by 9 points), and to the semi-finals in 2012 (again at the hands of the Wellington Saints). The Southland Sharks connection didn’t end there because in that same year Morgan was in the 2012 Tall Blacks Squad along with future Southland Sharks player Leon Henry and Kevin Braswell who was by then already in Southland.
The words ‘Anterior Cruciate Ligament’ (ACL) can send shivers down the spine of any athlete and an injury to the ACL reared its ugly head in Morgan’s playing career for the first time in 2012. Quick lesson on the ACL – it’s one of four major ligaments in the human knee, and a tear is one of the most common knee injuries resulting from a landing or planting in pivoting sports, with or without contact. Because the ACL is crucial for stabilizing the knee when turning or planting, most tears require reconstructive surgery with a recovery time ranging from six to ten months (sometimes longer). So for the next six months it was rehabilitation and physiotherapy to get back on the court. It can be a lonely time when you’re injured because you’re away from the team and doing different exercises, but a focus on the end ‘product’ can help keep moral up and when Paulie (Paul Henare) agreed to become head coach for the Zero Fees Southland Sharks he didn’t have to think long before asking if Morgan would become a Shark too. Thankfully for us he did! So it was last year we first saw Morgan come this far south for any length of time, although he’s spend a little time in our region while playing for ‘other’ teams, it was the first time he actually had time to really get to know Southland.
So what does he think of Southland? Of Invercargill? Of playing for the Sharks? Want to know more – then you’re in luck because we haven’t quite finished, check out Part Two coming to our website very shortly.