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From fleeing Zimbabwe to sleeping in a car in Invercargill: NZNBL player shares his incredible journey

This afternoon’s return of the NZNBL has meant a lot for many basketball fans but for one man who laced up tonight, it’s a chapter in his already amazing story he’s waited years to write.

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Tinashe Matambanadzo’s passion for basketball has led from Africa to Southland. Source: 1 Sport

Tinashe Matambanadzo will finally got his shot in the NZNBL tonight for the Auckland Huskies after fighting for a spot in the competition for years.

But the 27-year-old has been battling the odds for much long longer, starting when he was just nine and escaped as a refugee from Zimbabwe.

He eventually made it to New Zealand via South Africa where he spent six months alone.

“I guess I knew that mum was doing her best to get me to come so I think that kept me sane,” he said.

“When I look back at it, I’m more afraid than I was then.”

Once Matambanadzo reached New Zealand though, it didn’t take long for him to find his life-long love - basketball.

“It was at a school and my first shot was a half-court shot and I made it,” he said.

“I was like, ‘I think I like this’."

That passion would lead to many more stories, including driving from Auckland to Invercargill for a team only to have to spend a night sleeping in his car.

But every story is worth it, he said.

“It was basketball, when you love something… I’m super crazy. Let’s say that.”

Matambanadzo has been a fringe player for years in the NZNBL, going from team to team in search of an opportunity but struggling to get minutes to prove himself.

But with Covid-19 cutting down the player pool, Matambanadzo has risen in the ranks and his coach, former Breakers head coach Kevin Braswell, said he sees something special in him.

“A lot of guys here in this country walk away from basketball when they keep getting those knocks,” Braswell said.

“But he plays with a hunger and a passion a lot of players don’t bring to this game every day.”

Matambanadzo said he’s just doing what he loves.

“I genuinely believe everyone is given a God-given gift. When you don’t pursue that, there’s a hole that’s missing inside of you.”

With ESPN now broadcasting the NZNBL in the US to millions, who knows what the next chapter in Matambanadzo’s story holds.