Our star’s big chance

IN his 16 years, Nayte Ackerley has heard most of it.

He’s ‘short’ or ‘pint-sized’, like a character from a Disney film. A child recently told him he looked ‘like a chopped up man’.

These are the usual insensitive insults tossed at short-statured people like him. “It’s all right,” he says. “I can handle it. And it’s okay to call me a dwarf.

I am and it’s no big deal,” he says, laughing at his own joke.

What makes Nayte even more the subject of curiosity is that he’s also a basketball player. And a good one. He knows this – and soon the world will know it – because this kid from New Norfolk has just been selected for the Australian team to play in Germany in July.

The event is the World Dwarf Games, the largest international sporting event held exclusively for athletes with dwarfism. Nayte’s rise through the sports ranks is more about sweat, training and more training – and sticking to it – more than it is about size. His closest friend since childhood is J’Khobi – pronounced Jacoby, or more often, to his friends, just JK.

Theirs is the usual story, two kids mucking about with a basketball from about grade 5. When Nayte, the St. Brigid’s primary schooler, began to press for some actual skills training and join a team, his mum, Tameeka, said no.

“It was more like: NO!” she now admits. “If it wasn’t for JK and his family, this wouldn’t have happened.” Through their close family ties, Nayte got his initial coaching from Shellie, JK’s mother, who was already coaching a team and her own son.

“He proved me wrong. He’s confident, never backed away from a challenge,” says Tameeka with warmth and pride.

Today, Nayte is in Year 11 at St Virgils, and JK has moved on to an apprenticeship as a diesel technician. Otherwise, they’ve pretty much been through everything together.

“For all intents and purposes, they’ve grown up as brothers,” says Tameeka, also clearly fond of JK and his sister Shakira as she is of Nayte and his three siblings.

“Having JK around has He’s just been named in the Tasmanian under-18 state team, to play at the National Titles in April. This is his second selection for Tasmania. Meanwhile, like most 16-year-olds, they’re roasting each other on the PCYC court during a morning training session.

“Just because he’s small doesn’t mean he can’t eat as much as me,” points out JK. “And let me tell you, his voicebox is twice the size of mine,” he adds. “Yeah, people look at me a bit funny until I start to play ball,” reflects Nayte. “And I admit I like to get ahead of any comments about my size. I already know the joke.”

Some guys in shorts in Germany are about to find out that Nayte Ackerley is the same on the basketball court … just that little bit ahead of the competition.