Basketball: Kiwi Tai Wynyard overcomes mental illness, rollercoaster career to sign landmark China deal

Tai Wynyard is in the best shape of his life and ready to seize the opportunity of a lifetime, signing a contract worth close to a quarter-of-a-million dollars to play 3x3 basketball in China, after being scouted by Shanghai Sharks at the recent Asia Cup.

"Next minute, I'm pretty much got the contract sent to me, looking at the numbers, like, 'Holy heck'," he told Newshub.

The youngest-ever Tall Black at 16, Wynyard was tipped for greatness, but the road to his life-changing payday has been rocky.

A US college scholarship at iconic Kentucky University ended, when he was caught up in a incident, where a person took a gun to a party.

Wynyard battled back injuries and his mental health also declined to the point where he experienced episodes of psychosis

"I wouldn't leave the house for months," he told Newshub. "I was staring at the wall and not even coherent with reality, I guess."

Wynyard turned to food for comfort, his weight blowing out to about 150kg. 

"I just kept eating and eating," he said. "That's my safe happy place, you know."

Along his road to recovery and getting back on court has been his current Canterbury Rams coach, Judd Flavell.

"It quickly became about, 'OK, let's not focus on the basketball, let's use basketball to help him find his way back in his journey and in life'."

Another big motivator for Wynyard has been family, with the birth of his son two-and-a-half years ago a major turning point.

"It changes your aspect and thoughts on how you live your life, and everything like that," he said. "It changes everything."

Tai Wynyard as a Breakers development player in 2015
Tai Wynyard as a Breakers development player in 2015. Photo credit: Photosport

He even contemplated putting his basketball dream aside to provide a more stable income.

"I was happy to do that," said Wynyard. "I'm happy to support my family with whatever they need and support them."

Now he'll be doing that on a 3x3 court, when he leaves for a six-month stint in China next month.

"It's easy to dig yourself that hole, but it's so hard to crawl back out of it. I'm lucky to say that now I've kind of dragged myself out of that hole."

Still only 25, this could just be the start of Wynyard's journey.