A world away from his birthplace, Sacred Heart's Kobe Tomkinson finds new home

Tomkinson was born in Adelaide, Australia, and moved with his family to Grand Forks in 2015.

Kobe Tomkinson
East Grand Forks Sacred Heart's Kobe Tomkinson drives to the rim against New Life Academy of Woodbury during Thursday's quarterfinal game in the Minnesota state Class A tournament at Williams Arena. On Saturday, March 26, 2020, Tomkinson led Sacred Heart past Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the consolation final. Tomkinson also was named to the all-tournament team.
Bill Johnson/Special to the Herald

EAST GRAND FORKS — The five hour trip from to Williams Arena took decades to finally make for Sacred Heart boys basketball.

"The amount of support has been incredible," Eagles head coach Destry Sterkel said about his team's first ever trip to the MSHSL Class A state tournament. "By the time I got to my phone (after the section 8A championship), I had over 200 text messages."

"It's crazy to think that we are the best team to come out of Sacred Heart basketball, to finally lead this program to go to state," senior Samuel Gapp.

For senior Kobe Tomkinson, the biggest journey wasn't the five hour trip to Minneapolis.

It was the 9,482 miles he traveled before that.


Kobe originally hails from Adelaide, Australia. It was there he began to fall in love with basketball, though it's much different than what America is like.

"It's in districts, so school basketball's not really big," Tomkinson said. "Even just any sport is not too big unless it's professional."

His older brother, Jordan, had dreams of playing college basketball, a vision Kobe started seeing for himself too. His family knew, however, the best place to turn that into a reality would be in the United States.

"The best way to support your kids is to go with them," Kobe's mother Natasha said. "My husband did the right thing, he was ready for a move in his work. So it was either Grand Forks or Hilo, Hawaii. We chose the place that was best for us."

"When you think of those two places, you might think, 'Oh go to Hawaii,'" Kobe said. "The part we were in was all rain forest, wasn't too many people. So the place here, it was perfect."

The Tomkinson's made the move in 2015, and quickly found they'd have to go through quite the change to get settled in.

"The first winter was quite a shock," Natasha recalls. "Not nearly as bad as the ones we had after."

"In Adelaide, we have about a million people there, and here is about 50,000," Kobe said. "A bit of a step down (in population size)."


The whole move was made, however, to realize a basketball dream. It didn't take Kobe long to realize it was the right call.

"Playing in that high school basketball, it felt like an NBA game," he said. "The energy was amazing."

They even ended up with the Eagles after playing in an open gym with a few members of the team.

"Someone came up to our older son and introduced themselves and said, 'Would you like to come to Sacred Heart?' That’s how we got started," Natasha said.

Jordan ended up playing college basketball at Iowa Lakes Community College and Waynesburg University in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania before returning to Grand Forks to get his degree at the University of North Dakota.

He left Sacred Heart as its all-time leading scorer. Until Kobe started playing.

Tomkinson finished his high school career with 1,554 points to break his brother's record, helping the Eagles make a state tournament for the first time ever. Sacred Heart ultimately took the consolation championship on Saturday.

"You dream about it for three of four years and then for it to actually be possible, that’s a lot. That’s a lot to take in," he said.


Even after seven years in America, Kobe still gets the classic asks: how long the trip took, how much different Australia is, and everyone is interested in his accent.

"Questions about my voice, people asking me to say just sentences and words," he said after some laughter.

He'll gladly answer, thankful that chance the Tomkinson's took back in 2015 is paying off halfway around the world.

"It's been the best possible move, just watching them shine and give everything they have," Natasha said.

"It was kind of for my brother, and we didn't realize at first but it started becoming about me too," Kobe said.

Zach Staton joined WDAY as a sports reporter in 2018. He grew up in Salem, Virginia loving any sport he could play or watch. Staton graduated from Bridgewater College with a degree in Communication Studies before getting his Master's in Broadcast and Digital Journalism with a Sports Communication Emphasis from Syracuse University.
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