Joe comes full circle 07 April 2006
By TOBY ROBSON Glen Joe was hoping his hoop dreams would come true when he dropped everything and boarded a plane for China late last year.
He resigned from his job at the New Zealand Academy of Sport, farewelled his Auckland Stars teammates and focused on a fresh start.
The plan was to fall back on the heritage of his parents, who emigrated to New Zealand from China in the 1970s, before he was born, and gain citizenship to the world's most populated nation.
"I saw Brendon Polyblank and Phill Jones and those guys playing in Europe as locals," Joe explained. "Both my parents were born in China and even though they came here at a young age, I thought there was a chance I could go and play there as a local."
Joe arrived in the large Chinese city of New Xiamen, coincidentally Wellington's sister city, and began training and playing for his new team Fugian in the buildup to the China Basketball Association season.
But nothing is simple in the massive communist state and China's immigration officials decided a Kiwi hoopster was not going to sneak in the side door.
"It's a little disappointing, but you chase opportunities as far as you can and if they don't eventuate you know you have given it your best shot," Joe said.
"I was away for about five months and played and trained with the team for about two months, but the Chinese are pretty patriotic and I couldn't get a passport.
"It was an eye-opening experience to see what another country does. I can speak fluent Cantonese, but my Mandarin's not so good, so I was able to pick up on that."
He also missed out on a healthy pay cheque.
"You could make good money. In two months I made more than I made in New Zealand in a year from basketball. It's big money, big populations and a big playing base. In China you are either filthy rich or dirt poor."
Surprisingly, Joe said the league that produced NBA star Yao Ming was not as impressive as its billing.
"It was decent, but I was surprised it was not as good as New Zealand. They were big boys, (but) skill-wise not as good. They trained a lot, but I don't know why (they weren't as good as Kiwis). I guess they didn't train smart."
Joe would know. He holds a masters degree in sports science and has juggled basketball with a job at the New Zealand Academy of Sport in Auckland for the past five years, also lecturing at Auckland University and the Unitech.
China's loss is Wellington's gain after the club finally called Joe at the right time.
"They have been giving me a call at the end of the season pretty much for the last two or three years. It's just timing. When I went to China I had to quit all my jobs in Auckland, so I was not so committed this time."
And though it's not the way he planned it, Joe is glad he will still get the chance to reconnect with his roots.
Born in Lower Hutt he went to Naenae College with Saints teammate George Le'afa and former Wellington forward David Hopoi.
Joe laughs aloud as he recalls his early days at intermediate school in the Hutt Valley.
Back then he was the little Asian kid giving away height and weight to his Samoan classmate Le'afa.
"He was a two guard and I was point guard because he was bigger.
"And he could shoot the ball better back then," he said. "It was funny because by the time I came into the NBL he had been forced to play the one spot (point guard) because of his size and I was a two."
These days Joe, at 1.90m, has a distinct height advantage over his old mate.
The pair have not played much together since those early days in the Hutt Valley, but this year they will jostle for court time with the Wellington Saints.
In his fifth NBL season, which has included several years with Waikato and a title with the Stars last year, Joe is an important addition for the Saints. He'll run the point guard position mostly, but also fills the sharp shooting role vacated by Troy McLean's departure to North Harbour.
He hasn't given up on playing for the Tall Blacks or going overseas next season and is eyeing the Hong Kong national league where he hopes to play as an import.
But for now he's keen to add to his one NBL title.
He's got first-hand experience of how tough Le'afa and the Saints can be. In 2003 Joe scored 17 points for the Waikato Titans in the NBL final a 97-88 overtime loss to the Saints in Hamilton