Photo Credit: Photosport NZ

The Covi-19 pandemic has created hardship and diffiiculty for many people but for Tinashe Matambanadzo it was just another challenge to overcome.

Overcoming adversity is in the DNA of the Auckland Huskies point guard who spent 7 months without his parents getting out of Zimbabwe in his childhood, lived in multiple locations, drove 2,000km after being cut from a team and slept overnight in a car at the end of the journey.

Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown the 177cm guard was in Melbourne preparing to play in the Big V League for Shepparton Gators but with the league shut down, and no income, Matambanadzoheaded back to Auckland determined to pursue other playing opportunities.

“My passion is basketball and the only thing I can control is working hard,” says Matambanadzo who is grateful for the lifeline the Huskies have thrown him after his Big V opportunity was scratched.

27-year old’s work ethic has been noted by various coaches including Huskies Head Coach Kevin Braswell.

“He’s a guy I’ve seen work, and work, and work. I remember Judd (Flavell) and I would have conversations about him. Judd would talk about his training ethic – he was constantly in the gym training people or doing his own training. He was around basketball 24/7.”

There is another more amusing reason Braswell made Matambanadz the Huskies sixth round pick.

“I swear I had to have him on my team because every Wednesday night, in the local North Harbour competition, he was talking crap to me!”

Matambanadzocan concur with that.

“I’ve played against Kevin many times. The first time he scored about fifty points and we were talking trash all the way through and I had a terrible game.

“Second game we did the same thing and although I played a little bit better but we still lost.

“Third game I thought I’m going to be quiet and see what happens. But he got under my skin again, I talked smack and he killed me.

“The fourth game I decided I’m not saying anything whatsoever. He was going at me the whole game but I didn’t bite. We ended up winning by one point and I think I had about 40 points.

“At the end of the game he looked at me and said You’ve learnt your lesson!”

Known for a bit of flamboyancy on court, Braswell is prepared to live with that.

“I’m possibly the one coach who is going to ask him to be Tinashe. Everyone wants to tell you how to read the game and make the right pass, I’m just trying to bring fun basketball to these guys, and we can live with the odd mistake.”

Prior to this season Matambanadzospent two seasons with the Southland Sharks but the first season, in 2018, didn’t have the best of starts.

“I was training with Hawkes Bay and thought I would make the team but two weeks before the season was due to start I was cut.

After the initial shock the determined Matambanadzo picked up the phone and started to make calls.

“After messaging most the teams in the NBL Judd Flavell called me and asked me to head down to Southland.”

He immediately drove back to Auckland to see his family and within a couple of days was headed to Invercargill. Not on a flight but a 1,600km drive!

“I had to time my arrival in Invercargill as the same time as Judd as I was staying with him.”

Unfortunately for Matambanadzohe didn’t quite get his timing right and after a three-day journey he arrived in New Zealand’s southern most city 24 hours before his coach.

“l didn’t know anyone else so I just slept in my car in the car park of ILT Stadium where the Sharks play their games,” mused Matambanadzo.

The situation improved from their as the Sharks, with Matambanadzo playing his part coming off the benchwent on to win the NBL title that year.

He looks back on those couple of seasons with fondness.

“The people in Southland were great and I can’t speak highly enough of Jill Bolger and the Sharks organization. They looked after me and I can’t thank them enough.”

“My role wasn’t to score, I was hardly going to get on court. My role was to pump everyone up. I’m a believer that whatever you job is do it to the best of your ability.

On top of that the knowledge I got from Judd and the likes of Reuben Te Rangi, Jarrad Weeks, Derone Raukawa and Ton Vodanovich were invaluable. I know I’ll use those skills with the Huskies.”

Zimbabwean born Matambanadzocalls himself a “Kiwafrican”.

“I left Zimbabwe when I was aged 9 although my parents left first and I had to wait at home for 7 months. I had to wait in South Africa on my own which was pretty tough – we eventually got to Australia and then came to New Zealand.

“I didn’t know what school was during those times,” he reflected.

“I went to a few schools because we moved a lot with my mum’s work. I spent two years at Kamo High School in Whangarei, which I really enjoyed, and when we came to Auckland I attended Waitakere College to finish my school years.

“I’m super grateful to the Huskies. I had my contract ripped away from me in Australia where I was very comfortable. It’s an honour to be asked to play in the Sal’s NBL where everyone is going to be watching and I’m sure the Huskies are going to get a great local fan club.

“And it’s at Trusts Arena – they used to kick me out of that place!

“I’d spend six hours in their training and they would tell me you have to go home.”

They won’t be kicking you out over the next 6 weeks Tinashe! You can watch the full 1 News story on Tinashe by clicking here.