Inside the Shark Cage with Morgan Natanahira – Part II
It’s easy to assume the life of a sports person is one of all the luxuries portrayed in the flashy tabloids, and it’s easy to assume that ALL athletes must live that type of lifestyle. Life is easy for them after all right? Everything is done for them? They’ve just got to show up on the day and do what it is that they do. Yes, in the movies maybe. Enter real life and its hard work, dedication, sacrifice, sweat, long hours, fun, excitement and sometimes loneliness. It’s not all rock and roll. Yet the flip side is off course doing what you absolutely love doing and being able to do it on a grand scale. One thing that stood out when I sat across from SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks’ player Morgan Natanahira is his passion for what he does. It’s not difficult to spot the smile that automatically comes across his face when he talks about playing basketball, it’s almost involuntary. It’s been a somewhat different journey for Morgan to the one he was expecting when he signed his two year contract with the Southland Sharks last season, he, like the rest of us there at the Velodrome, didn’t expect his ACL to rupture in spectacular fashion during a home game in front of his own fans. Morgan knew the instant it happened what had happened and knew what would lay ahead of him in the coming months as he would have to watch his team mates play for the ultimate prize, the 2013 NBL Championship. The option to operate immediately was there but Morgan decided along with his surgical team to remain in Southland with the team in a supportive role. The first time he had ruptured his ACL it was a long 6 months of physiotherapy and strength training in the gym after the surgery, but having made it back once must have been reassuring although incredibly frustrating to have to do it again. After the team had won the Championship last year Morgan didn’t return to Southland with the majority of the other players after the Finals but opted to get ready for surgery and the slightly longer road back to the court that he would face. He vowed to take his time, to get it completely right, to not rush as he suspects he may have done last year. But who can blame him for not wanting to get back to what he loves doing as quickly as possible? The Southland Sharks team is perhaps a little unusual in its set up with some of the players not having an ‘off season’ because they are playing in the Australian NBL for either the NZ Breakers or for an Australian team. They will basically finish one campaign (or season) and jump straight into the other, and then off course you’ve got any International tournaments too. So there isn’t much ‘down time’, and things start getting especially busy when the pre-season training gets under way ahead of a new season in the New Zealand NBL. Morgan has been training with the team since his arrival back to Southland and fully anticipated making an appearance for the team before the end of the season. I wasn’t the only one cheering at the last home game when Morgan took to the court for only the second time this season. A crowd favourite judging by the cheers. But what about preparation or training for a game? What does that involve? Morgan told us that on a typical day in a typical week, he and the other players would be at the stadium in the morning for about an hour to an hour and a half for shooting practice, although this isn’t compulsory on all but one day per week, most if not all the team show up each morning and practice. For a majority of players this morning practice session is followed by either a brief rest or straight to the gym for strength training for an hour or so on three or four mornings per week. While some may be able to relax for a few hours after their gym session, for others it’s time for coaching in the local primary schools to pass the torch of passion for basketball onto young players. Coaching is followed by a few ‘down’ hours, a time to relax or catch up with friends before the evening training session back at Stadium Southland. The evening session is slightly longer, normally 2 hours, and it is here the players go through their paces and cover everything they need to know and be able to do on the court on game day. Off course no amount of training and exercise is going to do any good if you hop to the takeaway bar every two seconds and diet is again something that is self-enforced by the players. They are all well aware the need to eat as healthy as possible is only going to be of benefit. It’s a balance between self-control and focus on what you want most according to Morgan. This is the same with going to the gym for strength training, it’s mainly self-regulated because deep down as an athlete you know what you should be doing and the drive within is often strong enough to do the ‘right thing’. That’s not to say the occasional ‘not so good’ thing is passed over, everything in moderation! I asked Morgan what the best things are about being a professional basketball player and he didn’t hesitate with the answer of being with his friends and doing what he truly loves. He speaks of the closeness of this team, the players are all good friends, they can read each other, almost know what each other’s next move would be and it’s this closeness that perhaps makes this particular team successful at what they do. It’s not difficult to see when you watch this tight-knit group in action on either game night or during training. Yet this closeness isn’t an exclusion thing, any new player would be the first to testify how welcoming and accommodating the team and management are, and the Southland fans too for that matter, they are welcomed with open arms and a smile (and a mighty roar on game nights!). Most new players feel right at home, and what a home it is! The new Stadium is certainly something to be proud of and it’s nice not to be cold when training early in the morning as it can be in some training facilities in other parts of the country. Off course there are huge differences between the two cities Morgan calls ‘home’. Auckland is large and yes, warmer, but Invercargill makes up in passion, acceptance, down to earth residents what it may lack in size, and the weather isn’t “that bad either” says Morgan. Although Morgan has been in the official match program as ‘Assistant Coach’ for most of this season, it isn’t a career move he wishes to make on a permanent basis just yet, his heart is still firmly in playing. Morgan’s focus, determination and hard work has certainly paid off and his timing couldn’t have been more perfect; seeing the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks have made it to the play-offs again this year, Morgan’s return to the court may just coincide with playing for the ultimate prize – the 2014 NBL Championship. Fingers and toes crossed as we wish Morgan and the entire SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks’ organization all the Southland luck in bringing back ‘that’ trophy for a second year in a row.