Basketball Defends Undefeated Home Record against New Zealand

Sophomore and shooting guard #4 Omar Habibeh attempts to work around a defensive Pakuranga player in order to pass the ball to a teammate.

Helena Hu and Annie Qiao

Students roared with cheers as JV boys’ basketball (9-2) defeated Pakuranga College 69-46 on Dec. 11. Pakuranga College originates from East Auckland, New Zealand, making school history as the first competing team from outside the country. JV additionally played Flinders Christian School from Victoria, Australia, on Dec. 16.

“In 22 years of coaching, I have never coached a team that played an international team, and for Portola to be able to do it tonight, what a great opportunity we had,” head coach Brian Smith said. “These kids now, and for the rest of their lives, can say that they played a team from New Zealand.”

The Bulldogs had a shaky start to the game, narrowly leading at the end of the first quarter 18-12 as a result of the more physical and fast-paced play from the New Zealand team. Pakuranga’s strong offensive game as well as the generally tall size of the players were initially challenging.

“I think there’s a lot our team can improve on. We’ve been executing pretty well. Defense today we started off a little bit shaky in the first half, but I know we will improve,” starting point guard and captain Robert Giraldy said.

As the game progressed through the second half, the Bulldogs stepped up their offensive game by pressing more and stealing the ball, pulling ahead to win 69-46. Sophomores Mohsen Hashemi and Jared Van Haeren also executed solid man-to-man defensive play to counteract Pakuranga’s strategies.

“It was kind of cool, you know you don’t get an opportunity to play teams internationally, so just take advantage of the opportunity,” shooting guard and sophomore Saif Habibeh said.

Although coming from opposite sides of the world, both teams immediately became friendly and bonded over their love of basketball. Members from both teams talked about what their respective countries were like, exchanged social media handles and enjoyed a post-game dinner together.

“They were just looking in the area with teams that they thought they could compete with, and somebody mentioned us, so I think our name is spreading a little bit, in a good way,” Smith said.  “People want to play us now. It’s great for the culture of Portola.”