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Basketball: Pasifika brothers from South Auckland heading to US with big NBA dreams

WIlliam Sangster, Te Rito Journalism Cadet

Brothers Frank and William Passi have grown up playing basketball in Manurewa’s backyard.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Brothers Frank and William Passi have grown up playing basketball in Manurewa’s backyard.

But now, the Tongan-Samoan pair have an opportunity to take their sibling rivalry and friendship to the United States to pursue their dreams of playing on the biggest basketball stage of all - the NBA.

Frank, 21, and his younger brother William Passi, 18, from the villages of Folaha (Tonga) and Taufusi (Samoa), have been scouted to play for North Florida Prep in Jacksonville, Florida.

They arrive in October, for the season start in November.

Frank is eager to take the next step with his sibling.

“I always loved playing with my brother; he’s a high-level player. I have to keep myself in check and make sure he’s not getting better than me.

“But I love playing with him and I know I can trust him on the court. So I was very happy and proud to find out that we’d go together.”

Parents Siutaisa Lupe and William Snr Passi with their sons William (left) and Frank. Photo / Supplied

William is also prepared for the transition and the challenges of playing abroad.

“Just getting the experience there, matching up with the best of the best.

“So going to America, where they’re known for their basketball, and seeing what kind of level they’re at and how me and Frank can compete at that level as well.”

Both brothers are six foot five - 195.5 cm tall - and both can play shooting guard and small forward.

William says that Frank constantly pushes him and they both work to get better at their games.

“He’s practically been like my best friend. There are days when I don’t want to train, but Frank pushes me, ‘need to get better at this; we need to get better at it’.

“That’s something that helped my development as, not just a player, but as a person in life, just holding me to a high standard.”

Alex Brown is a basketball coach who has acted as a manager for the boys.

He says Donald Tasi, Corey Tau, and TK Hards are the coaches who deserve credit for developing the boys’ skillset.

Brown was more than happy to circulate video footage of the brothers, to his contacts in Florida.

This led to North Florida Prep taking an interest.

‘We are proud of our culture’

Brown says he noticed something special when he saw the brothers at tournaments and trials.

“I could see both brothers had so much potential in this game.

“Frank, being the older one, was always leading the way for his little brother William.

“Not just in basketball, but as a role model and his sacrifice by putting William first with his basketball.”

Brown runs Mana Athletes, an organisation that helps put kids on paths to further their education through basketball.

“To be honest, ... my role here is to help as many of our athletes as possible get an opportunity to see the world, get a free education, and play ball.”

The North Florida Prep Basketball Program strives to make each student-athlete successful in all aspects of life. The Passi boys are determined to go pro and play in the NBA.

Parents Siutaisa Lupe and William Snr Passi are super proud.

“We would like to thank God for blessing our sons with this opportunity. We would also like to say that we are extremely proud of both our sons and what they have achieved throughout their basketball journeys.”

The boys are proud of their Pacific heritage and hope to represent Tonga at the national level.

They have some words of advice for aspiring Polynesian basketball players.

“We are proud of our culture. It means a lot to us.”

They also have a piece of advice for young Pacific Islanders.

“Whatever it is, learn from your hard work. And when the time comes, it will come to fruition.”

Hero image: FRank and Wiliam Passi. Photo/Supplied

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