Q&A With Akiva McBirney-Griffin

What is your full name and where are you from?

Akiva McBirney-Griffin. Born and raised in Hamilton, NZ. Mum is from Samoa, Dad is from the Cook Islands. 

Why did you choose the game of basketball? 

I wanted to be an All Black. Rugby was my main sport, I played first five. At primary school my teacher put me in the school basketball team beacuse I was tall. And then I got hooked, gave up rugby when I ended up missing too many games because I was always away at bball tournaments. 

What schools did you attend? and what were your achievements and highlights? 

Primary – Silverdale Normal

Intermediate – Berkley Normal 

High School – St Johns College. 

Got a few academic awards for top Pasifika student, topped Sport Science, prefect in Y13. Heaps of bball achievements. 

You are a role model for young men, what advice do you have for them getting into basketball?

Be patient. Its a long hustle, things dont happen over night. You gotta do your time – ride the bench, make the B teams, recover from injury. Patience is the key – if you continue with the hard work you will eventually be seen and recognised. 

What has been the ultimate highlight so far in your career? 

Few highlights- of course winning the NBL with the Otago Nuggets in my first year in the NBL. Followed by winning the U17 Nationals with Waikato, being selected to attend a NBA Global Academy Camp and beating Australia in pool play at the FIBA U15 Oceania Championship.

Who has been your biggest influence in basketball and why?

Ive had lots of supportive coaches along the way who have supported me as a player but more importantly as a person. Mel Young was the most pertinent ball influence on me, he was my first rep coach and encouraged me to attend St John College. He died a few months before I started school, but his influence continued through out my high schooling. We remember him, and the 43 years that he worked and coached at St Johns. I have the school crest and the numbers 43 tattooed on my ribs to remind me of his dedication and service and inspire me and keep me focussed and determined. 

What have you been doing this summer? 

I finally had a break from ball! And I needed it.  Its been a really busy year starting with the NBL, then straight into school ball with our local competition and the Mel Young Invitation,  then U17s,  then Div 2, then Junior Tall Blacks Camp,  then Steven Adams. Alot of my down time was spent talking to College coaches in America and NBL coaches in NZ. Im back training now, but enjoyed the down time with family and friends. 

Who is the ultimate women’s basketball player in New Zealand?

The Ledger-Walker girls of course!! Im biased because she is a Waikato girl, but she is fire and absolutely killing it in America. 

Growing up I was trained by Rongomai and Manaia Timson in the Waikato. These girls were hundy. They played in the boys basketball league when they were at high school, they would absolutely carve you up, never afraid to take the contact and could shoot the house down. I totally rate them. 

And Tash Lenden without a doubt. She trained me through out my high schooling, shes ruthless. Her son is the same age as me, and shes still dominant. These women are tough. 

Who is the ultimate men’s basketball player in New Zealand? 

Its really hard to narrow it down when you have played with and against the best players in NZ. 

If we wanna go OG, Im gonna go Adrian Tuitama – because he was one of the first professional players of Samoan decent (I probably have to get a reference check on that but Im pretty sure he was the first).  Massive physical presence and mean inforcer. 

Of this era – Im gonna go with JK and Jordan Ngatai. Again Im biased because Ive played with these two – but for vets they were the best mentors for me on and off the court. They definitely guided me as a very young rookie. I appreciated their guidance and support. And theyre mean players! 

For the future  – Carlin Davison is definitely the next best. Crazy athletic. 

In terms of your playing career, what would be the pinnacle for you? 

Im so young, im only 17, so I dont even know if I have reached my pinnacle yet. Winning an NBL title is defintely the ultimate so far. 

Whats the best pair of basketball shoes you have owned? 

What ever I can fit and whats on clearance. I have such a mish getting shoes. Im lucky I have mates that have given me shoes, or friends who have picked some up overseas for cheap. I probs need a job so I can buy some decent shoes. Kobe 8s or KD4s probs. 

Who has been the hardest person to guard in your career and why?

Mika Vukona. Hes got some mean vet moves, strong, utilises his body positioning well. Knows how to work the refs. 

You played for the Otago Nuggets last season and won a championship, please tell me about this experience? 

It was a crazy experience. I wasnt intenting on playing in the NBL, Waikato dont have an NBL team so its not usually a pathway for boys in our region. Then the draft was introduced because of COVID, so I decided to enter. I moved to Auckland for six weeks, roomed with Josh Atchison who helped me with my stats homework. I was doing promos and training in the day, playing at night and then doing all my school work until the small hours of the morning. It was really exhausting. Ive never been awake so much in my life, just trying to fit it all in. But the food – ohhh the buffet was mean. I dont think Ive eaten so much in my whole life either. I didnt know how I would be received, I was only a kid and I was in a team with the number 1 draft pick. I had so much to learn about the physicality of mens bball vs high school ball, about professionalism and about recovery. It was a massive learning curve. My team were awesome. They were so accepting, and totally there to help me develop. I never felt out of place. I kinda thought that I would ride the bench, then I started getting more and more game time, and we started winning more and more games and soon the prospect of winning a title became reality. Finals night was crazy intense. And then we won and I had a couple of minutes to take it all in and then I was whisked off to do a drug test, so the celebrations were short lived. Its surreal – pretty honoured to be part of such a cool franchise and to play alongside and against some of NZ’s best players. JK is older than my mum and Mika Vukona had already played like 3 seasons in the NBL before I was born. These were dudes that I had looked up to, and now I was on the same court as them. 

#BuildTheCulture 🏀

Published by Jesse Wallis

Basketball Journalist

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