MINERS
Q/A With Olympian And Former Miner Noni Wharemate

Noni Wharemate

Noni Wharemate
 

On the eve of the 2008 Summer Games, former UTEP women’s basketball standout and member of the New Zealand Olympic Team took some time out of her busy schedule to participate in a Q/A session with utepathletics.com.

 

What was your reaction when you found out you had made the New Zealand Olympic Team?


It was a really tight selection. Two new players came into the team mix only a couple of months before the Olympics, which made it a really competitive situation. I was really nervous about whether I'd make the cut.  When I found out that I made the team, I was really relieved because I've put a lot of time and sacrifice into basketball. I'm just really grateful to have been included.

 
How excited are you to be representing New Zealand at the Olympics?

 

I'm totally over the moon!  We are only a small country, and there's not a lot of money in this game for Women in New Zealand so all the girls who have made it here have had to work really hard. It is all worth it when you get to play against the world's best with the name of your country on your uniform and for a team that you love.


Did you ever think in your wildest dreams that New Zealand would play in the Olympics, with you as a member of the team?


No, I really didn't think we would.  Australia is a basketball superpower, and we normally need to beat them to make it to the Olympics. This year because Australia won the world championships they obtained an automatic bid, and we were able to compete for the Oceania placement in the Olympics without having to beat them.  I was actually going to retire after I played in the 2006 Commonwealth games where we took a silver medal.  But when I found out we had a chance at making it to the Olympics, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.


What are you looking forward to most during the Olympics?


I'm looking forward to competing against the world's best in my sport.  It is every athletes dream to do that, and it's still all a bit surreal for me getting the opportunity to do so.  Playing against the likes of Diana Taurasi and Lauren Jackson will be amazing.  I'm also getting the opportunity to meet and see the world's best athletes. Some of them have been heroes of mine. For instance, today, I met NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and got to chat and take some pictures. All of this is awesome.


What would it mean to you to help New Zealand bring home a medal?


It would be a career and probably even life high point for me to do that.  We are a pretty big underdog here, so taking home a medal would be a dream come true.


What advice would you give to young girls who hope to one day become an Olympian?


I would probably tell them that there really is no substitute for hard work.  At the top level everyone thinks that it is all about talent. The fact is you can develop talent from hard work, especially if you start doing it at an early age.  If you want to be the best player you can be, you need to not only produce a great individual performance, but you have to be able to make the players around you better and get the most out of them too.

How did your experience with UTEP help you in your basketball career?


I can pretty much confidently say that I would not be an Olympian if I hadn't learned and grown the way I did through the UTEP program. I'd never ever been part of a more impressive outfit that had the full training regime on and off the court. At the same time, it was all about us being a big family and I was able to form bonds with my teammates and coaches that made it fun and gave me confidence that we could go out to play together.  I am still close to the coaching staff at UTEP now and will always be. Yes I love you coach Ewa :-)


You played for Keitha Adams when she starting to build a program at UTEP. How does it make you feel to see how much the team has accomplished, knowing that your efforts were instrumental in laying the foundation for success?


Wow, I'm so proud of what the coaches and players have achieved over the last few years since I finished school there.  I have followed the team closely and am really glad I could be at the foundations of something that I think will be a great legacy now.  I believed in what Coach Adams envisioned for the team when she came to recruit me, and I knew she was genuine and passionate about it. That was a huge reason I signed when I had other offers on board.  It is great to see that UTEP is now a force to be reckoned with!

Is there anything you want to tell the people of El Paso? Everyone in the city is so proud of your accomplishments


I think all I can really say is a big huge THANK YOU!  We had so many loyal fans, and as a foreign student in El Paso everyone was so warm and welcoming to me.  I was really humbled by how well I was treated by everyone and how great the coaching staff was, both as coaches and people. It was an awesome place to play and I would recommend UTEP and my coaches to everybody.