Shea Ili has had a frantic few weeks and things aren’t about to slow down anytime soon for the Breakers and Tall Blacks point guard. It’s his very own version of ‘March Madness’.
As soon as the Breakers season ended, following their Australian NBL Grand Final series loss to the Perth Wildcats, Ili was back on a plane heading for Wellington to link up with the Saints for the start of the local New Zealand NBL competition.
As if a heavy basketball schedule wasn’t challenging enough Ili returns to Auckland to marry fiancée Morgan Roberts today.
The pair have been sustaining a long-term relationship for the past seven months since Roberts began attending Oregon Tech University on a basketball scholarship last August. Roberts is an outstanding player in her own right earning a Tall Ferns trial last year after eye-catching performances for the North Harbour Under 23 and Harbour Breeze WBC teams.
Following the nuptials the pair will embark on a brief honeymoon before continuing their basketball careers on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean and yet more time apart.
Ili made a strong impression on the Breakers coaching staff during the recent campaign and despite being a development player was preferred to the more experienced Shane McDonald in all five play-off games. The deciding third game in Perth was an experience the 23 year old admits caught him off guard.
“It was an experience to learn from but I felt like I wasn’t prepared to play in front of such a massive crowd. It was so loud you couldn’t even hear your teammates.”
Playing directly opposite Perth’s Damian Martin, the Grand Final MVP and five times NBL Best Defensive Player, enabled Ili to see first hand the level he wants to take his game to.
“It was definitely something to learn from playing against such a great defensive player. I look up to him and the way he plays, it’s how I want to be – a pest on defence.”
Taking his game to a higher level is the major motivation behind his move to the capital. At the Saints he falls under the guidance of former Breakers guard, now Wellington coach, Kevin Braswell.
“I’m enjoying playing for Wellington with the responsibility of being the starting point guard. My role is to lead the team and take them as far as I can. One of the main reasons for going to Wellington was to be mentored by Kevin, he’s been around the world playing basketball and I thought it was a good opportunity especially to help my scoring and offensive game.”
The Saints have given their point guard leave of absence to tie the knot, although not for long.
“We go to Fiji for four days then when we get back I head straight down to Southland to play the Sharks and Morgan heads back to college,” says Ili.
Having had his first taste of international basketball in 2015 the former Onehunga High School standout is keen to make the Tall Blacks team again but it could come at a price for the hoops duo.
“We will be together for a couple of weeks when Morgan’s academic year is finished in June but if I make the Tall Blacks I probably won’t see her again for over a year.”
It’s likely Skype will be keeping Shea and Morgan linked for some time yet.