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Ngatea teen Sebastian Dowd is shooting for the stars with his upcoming season at Florida Coastal Prep. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Nothing but net for Ngatea teen with big dreams

Sebastian Dowd dreams of making it big on the basketball court – and the Ngatea teen’s drive and talent have earned him a training spot on the other side of the world. 

The 17 year old will join the roster at Florida Coastal Prep, a sports academy in the United States which prepares high school students for sports careers in college and beyond. Arriving at the end of August, he will spend the American school year studying, training, and showcasing his skills for recruiters. 

Mum Suri Lee-Walker said her son has dreamed of a career on the court since he was little. 

“He just said, ‘Mum, I really want to play basketball one day in America’,” Suri said.  

“He never gave up.”

Sebastian started out playing for Thames Valley and for his former school Hauraki Plains College. When looking for another challenge, he came across a tournament run by Hoop Nation, and reached out to see if there were any spots available. 

“[The coach] was like, ‘Yup, we have a roster spot available, you’re going to need this, this, this, this, and this, and we’ll see you on the bus at 12 tomorrow’,” Sebastian said. 

“It was 10 o’clock at night and I set my alarm for 4 o’clock in the morning.” 

Suri woke to find her son, then 16, heading out the door to Whanganui for a week with a “bus full of randoms”. 

“I told him to take photos of the bus and rego so if he went missing I’d know where to find him!” she said. 

Sebastian competed in the tournament with West Auckland team Mana Moana, and from there continued to work with coach Alex Brown. 

“He pretty much just put himself out there, [and] those coaches and kids that played with Sebastian, they’re literally family and brothers now,” Suri said. 

Alex had sporting contacts overseas, and he sent footage of the teen’s playing to Florida Coastal Prep. 

“We got offered the scholarship and they’ve given us things to work on, and ever since then we’ve just been going at those same things, building on them,” Sebastian said. 

For the last few months, Sebastian has been training hard to prepare for his move; cleaning up his diet, playing some skirmishes and refining his skills. 

“Now, I think we’re clocking up about 16 hours worth of training and it’s still intense, but over there they take it to a whole new level,” he said. 

“I think we’ll do two weights sessions, and then we’ll do a team practice; some days we’ll do one-on-one, every now and then we’ll do beach trainings.

“We’ll clock up about 24 hours of training every week – we’ve definitely got our hands full.”

Sebastian said he owed a lot to his coaches, and encouraged anyone with a similar dream to keep reaching for opportunities.  

“If any Maori kids or anyone are looking to go into the States … work through Alex Brown,” he said. 

“[And] trust the process. It gets tough at times seeing everyone hang out and you’re just there doing your own thing, but I guess that’s what divides everyone from the people who are willing to do whatever it takes.” 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air