With five former Tall Blacks in their ranks, few teams competing at the World Masters Games will boast the same wealth of international experience as the The Unknowns.
The crack team, who play A grade basketball every week on Auckland’s North Shore, include five former New Zealand international players - Chris Simpson, Kenny Stone, Mark Graham, Andrew Parke and Konrad Ross – which form a formidable line-up guaranteed to give all opposition teams at World Masters Games 2017 a headache.
Simpson, immersed in basketball since first taking up the sport at Logan Park High School in Dunedin aged 14, enjoyed an outstanding nine-year career winning 54 caps for the Tall Blacks and featuring regularly in the NBL.
But even following the point guard's professional retirement, the passage of time has not dimmed the dad-of-five’s passion for the game.
“We are friends for more than 30 years and we’ve kept that friendship going by turning up every Wednesday night, playing A grade basketball and having a beer afterwards,” admits Chris from Dairy Flat. “We play against all the young 20-year-old’s in the North Shore, but we’ve found we are still reasonably competitive. For some of us it is our only form of exercise, but we’d rather do that than go to the gym or run the streets.”
Last year The Unknowns tasted masters competition for the first time by competing at the New Zealand Masters Games in Dunedin – an experience the team relished.
Yet the added spice of competing in a major international competition on home ground in Auckland remains a tantalising prospect, according to Chris.
“It is exciting to think there are 25,000 people coming to New Zealand to play in 28 different sports, I don’t think New Zealand has yet got its head around how big the World Masters Games is going to be,” adds Chris, a director of IMECO, the company that carried out the initial feasibility work on behalf of central government to look into Auckland staging the World Masters Games.
“We are really looking forward to playing against players of a similar age to us and also to be part of the atmosphere and to enjoy the social side.”
Chris, aged 49, is unsure whether The Unknowns “will chop” a couple of younger guys from the team and enter the Premiere Grade +50 competition or opt for the +40 competition at World Masters Games 2017. Yet he has a simple aim and ambition.
“We just want to play our best and enjoy some good competitive games,” he adds. “It is not much fun when you wallop a team or get walloped yourself. We might not be as athletic as we once were the older you are the wilier you get and we love the physicality.”