Last Saturday night, the Tongan national men’s basketball team received their bronze medals at the FIBA Polynesia Cup in Samoa.
About a week before, it was still unclear whether they’d even be able to fly over and compete.
The team were short of the funds required for accommodation in Samoa, and it was only some last minute generosity from friends and companies close to the team that got them over the line.
Captain Aminiasi Malua said over 36 hours the team went from no chance of attending to booking their flights.
“All glory to God, that’s what carried us here.”
Malua was almost lost for words following the medal ceremony on Saturday night.
“Amazing happens everyday.”
One of the key donors that came through late in the piece was Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare (P.R.P.W.), a union representing professional rugby players in the northern hemisphere.
P.R.P.W. board member and director of operations for the Tonga Amateur Sport and National Olympic Committee Inoke Afeaki was keen to spread the word and get people on board.
“Most P.R.P.W. guys have played other sports like basketball, so we know the situation with funding,” he said.
Aminiasi Malua thinks it’s really important for his team to pay the favour forward when they can
“We know how it feels to be the ‘Cool Runnings’ of basketball or whatever sport,” said Malua.
“This is the beginning, we want to get to the point where we’re financially stable, and give the same opportunity to someone else.”
Afeaki recently met with the Tonga National Basketball Association to discuss how the momentum behind the team can be capitalised on.
“I’ll work with them to make plans, looking towards the Pacific Games in July.”
Tonga qualified for the Games through their 3rd place performance last week.
Guard Marcus Alipate was key to their play, with the born-and-raised American leading the competition in scoring at 39.2 points per game, giving him a spot on the All Star Five team of the tournament.
Afeaki said recruiting top overseas-based players is important for the success of the national team.
“Representing a smaller country like Tonga means you have to find the funds yourself.
“But Mate Ma’a Tonga (national rugby league team) are a good example – top players want to play in spite of the money.
“The pride is very real.”