IT'S already the first day of the second month of the new year. Indeed, time waits for no man. And while reflecting on our past, taking into account how fast time flies, it gives us that sense of humour that our beginning is always vital in steering a ship forward.
And now, let's reflect on our first national basketball team that represented Fiji on the international stage. Last week, we highlighted how Basketball Fiji was born and where it originated.
Ever since basketball started in 1958, the sport has reached all parts of the country.
The first ever group of Fiji basketball reps represented Fiji at the Noumea South Pacific Games in 1966 where Fiji was bundled out of the medal playoffs. This team had Rodney and Keith Fong, and Victor Heritedge, to name a few.
It was the first national team to grace the international stage. Fiji was represented at the 1963 SPG at Buckhurst Park in Suva where we won gold. This team was made up of players from the Suva Indoor Basketball Association because Basketball Fiji had yet to be formed. We cannot really call this a national team because it was only represented by Suva. But in 1966, Fiji's first ever basketball team was selected from Lautoka, Vatukoula, Suva, Nadi, Lami, Raiwaqa and Taveuni. We struggled against Tahiti and New Caledonia who fielded players from France during the SPG in Noumea. However, it was a stepping stone to where our national team is today.
Fiji's first ever tour outside the Pacific was in 1978 to China. The normal overseas tours were during the SPG to South Pacific countries. This tour marked a historical occasion for Basketball Fiji. The side had the services of Tamana Rasova, Joe Gock, Wame Gavidi, Warrick Smith and Ratu Vili Cinavilakeba.
In this game, Fiji took the China Mainland and Southland teams to the wire with explosive performances. Fiji's tallest player was 6 feet 2 inches while that was the shortest player from the opposing teams. In a period of 40 minutes, 204 points were scored, Fiji lost narrowly 101-103 to the Southland team and also to the Mainland side.
Fiji's technique was to play ground ball which made the tall Chinese struggle to contain Fiji.
Yasawa man, Apolosi Tora, who played for Namoli in the Lautoka Basketball Association competition, was probably the best shooter in Fiji, according to former Basketball Fiji president and manager Fred Caine.
Fiji's squad was selected from more than 400 players while China's players were selected from among millions.
Caine recalled this team as one of the best teams produced by Fiji.
He said discipline in the side was one of the key elements that steered Fiji to a near perfect game against China.
He said players such as Tora and Smith were given stern warnings to perform at training or face the axe.
"All these players, I always warned them, if they were not fit, they would not be selected," Caine said.
"That is one of the reasons why this team performed above expectations and shocked the crowd on that day in China."
Team: Ratu Vili Cinvalakeba, Joe Gock (v/c), Henry Gock, Major Kabakoro, Warrick Smith (c), Wame Gavidi, Apolosi Tora, Master Viliame, Joe Kabakoro, Salimoni Tamana Rasova, Gabriel Cheer; Coach: Patrick Cheer; Manager: Fred Caine
* Next week: The Oceania team