For many Kiwi athletes plying their trades overseas, COVID-19 threw a spanner-in-the-works for the future of their respective leagues.
For 22-year old Kenneth Tuffin, the NZNBL presented an opportunity he never thought would be in his plans for 2020, playing basketball on home shores for the first time in five years, courtesy of the Taranaki Mountainairs.
"I was quite intrigued by the whole thing, and then I talked to my University, and they gave me the all-clear, and then I went from there in terms of getting in contact with teams," Tuffin tells Newshub.
Tuffin has called the Philippines home since 2016, earning a basketball scholarship at the illustrious Far Eastern University (FEU). The Filipino-Kiwi’s career has gone from strength to strength, now captaining the side as one of their most veteran players.
"News of my drafting kind of made waves in the Philippines because there’s not really much happening there at the moment. So they were kind of taken back by the fact that I was drafted into a pro-league."
Before the NBL draft, Tuffin spent time with Taranaki, who eventually verbally committed to taking the three-point specialist with their seventh pick.
"I knew I was going to be drafted late if ever. I was quite surprised Taranaki said they would pick me at [number] seven so that no other team could pick me up.""
And he certainly hasn’t disappointed. Starting in every game he’s played in the tournament, Tuffin’s averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds per game, all while shooting a highly efficient 54-percent from the field.
"It’s been nice to come back here and show myself after five years away from New Zealand and try to put some people on notice.
"People didn’t really know how I was or what I could do before this tournament, so it’s kind of under the radar.
"I think a lot of people are starting to take notice now, other teams are starting to scout me and other players in the team."
Tuffin believes the toughness that’s needed to thrive in the Philippines is helping him make a mark on the NZNBL.
"I’d say the Philippines is much more physical. The game here is also a little bit slower, but I like it because you can take your time with certain things."
Hailing from Wellington, Tuffin’s services have been sought-after by a few NBL teams for future tournaments, but his future plans involve him going back to the Philippines, beginning with wrapping-up his college chapter.
"I really want to finish my final year and graduate as well, and try my luck in the PBA (Philippines Basketball Association) over there. That’s definitely one of my goals and one of my dreams as a kid."
Right now, Tuffin is relishing in the opportunities presented to him through adversity.
"I’m really thankful for the opportunity honestly. It’s been really great to learn off certain guys and be around guys who have been in the NBL for a long time and being able to pick their brains."
Entering the back-half of the tournament, Tuffin and the Mountainairs sit atop of the table, next facing the Canterbury Rams on Saturday night.
Despite leading the competition, Tuffin and his team-mates feel as though they’re still being constantly overlooked.
"That’s just a lot more fuel to the fire, we just have to keep going and worry about us, that’s all we can control."
Tuffin could be in New Zealand for a while yet, his last season with Far Eastern University in the Philippines Collegiate Championship has been rescheduled to March next year.