The New Zealand Olympic Committee along with Basketball New Zealand has named the men’s basketball team for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
Head Coach Paul Henare says the 12-strong roster has a great mix of youth and experience, with all players recently experienced at international level.
“While some of this group are younger in years, they have all benefited from recent international basketball, through the 2017 Asia Cup when we took a very inexperienced team away, to recent New Zealand Select tours to China, and of course many were involved in recent FIBA World Cup qualifying windows,” said Henare.
“Guys like Ethan (Rusbatch), Derone (Raukawa) and Tohi (Milner-Smith) are young but bring the experience of that Asia Cup campaign to every team they play for, while others such as Shea (Ili), Finn (Delany), Jordan (Ngatai) and our captain Rueben (Te Rangi) all benefited hugely from that experience and have a great understanding of the pressure they will face in the next few weeks.”
Henare does however have some old hands to call on, players who will not have the pressure of doing anything than just ‘be themselves’ in a young group.
“Mika (Vukona), Tom (Abercrombie), JK (Jarrod Kenny), Pledge (Alex Pledger) and Rob (Loe) are the old heads in this group, but they just need to be themselves, there is no expectation on them doing anything other than just be leaders in what they do and how they behave and play.
“One of our great strengths is our culture and knowing who we are, why we play and what we do to honour those that have played before and those that will play for the black singlet in the future.”
The New Zealand men's team won silver on the only other occasion that basketball was on the Commonwealth Games schedule, in Melbourne in 2006. The only survivor in the playing ranks is Vukona, although Henare and his assistant coach Pero Cameron were both on that roster and played key roles throughout the tournament.
“I remember that tournament vividly, we won silver but what I remember is being in a great position to win gold,” said Vukona, who returns to captain the team after missing the recent wins in China and Korea.
“We led the Aussies going into the final quarter and it was only a couple of key moments that saw the game go away from us.
“To have another chance at winning a medal and to do so with this new group of players and coaches is a huge honour. The first few days in the village will be a bit of a shock to some of the younger players, but I know they will get their heads down and go to work, they have shown their ability to cope under pressure at the Asia Cup and then last month in China and Korea, this is an exciting group to be a part of and I am extremely proud to lead them.”
Rueben Te Rangi has led the side in Vukona’s absence, since that successful Asia Cup campaign in Lebanon, when a young New Zealand side shocked the basketball world with a fourth-place finish, defeating home side Lebanon along the way.
The 23-year-old is looking forward to pulling on the black singlet at the Commonwealth Games and experiencing being part of a wider New Zealand team culture.
“This is exciting and, in some ways, very different. We are used to tournament formats, travelling and playing in some hostile environments. In a way we will still be isolated through pool play in Cairns, but we are all looking forward to sharing the Games experience with the rest of the New Zealand team, to soak up that atmosphere and feed off the support that I am sure everyone in black will be giving to each other when they can.
“Playing for a Commonwealth Games medal is something to treasure, this is just the second-time basketball has been included. We won’t put any medal expectations on ourselves though, of course we are here to win, that is our approach every time we take the floor, but we will take it one game at a time and not get carried away with the outcome. It is hard work and performance that matters, the results will look after themselves.”
New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith extended her congratulations to the athletes selected.
“Well done to all of the athletes named to this team. It’s fantastic to have basketball back at the Commonwealth Games and it’s great for the team to be heading into this campaign following some very impressive international results,” said Smith.
“Basketball is an extremely fast paced and action packed sport and we look forward to watching you compete in Australia.”
The tournament is slightly different to the typical FIBA format, with the top four seeded nations grouped together in Pool A. The top two sides from that pool progress directly to the semifinals, while the bottom two will play against the top two teams from the lower ranked pool, with the winners of those two games also progressing to the semifinals.
New Zealand will play Nigeria, Canada and Australia in pool play, with all matches being played in Cairns, before teams move back to the Gold Coast for semifinals and medal rounds. The lower ranked pool consists of England, Scotland, India and Cameroon. The first match for New Zealand is against Nigeria on April 6th. For the full schedule CLICK HERE
The naming takes the total number of New Zealand athletes confirmed to the New Zealand team to 215 athletes.
New Zealand Men’s Basketball Team (name, club/s, position)
Derone Raukawa, NZ Breakers/Southland Sharks, guard
Shea Ili, NZ Breakers, guard
Jarrod Kenny, Perth Wildcats/Bay Hawks, guard
Rueben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets/Southland Sharks, guard
Ethan Rusbatch, Bay Hawks, guard
Jordan Ngatai, NZ Breakers/Wellington Saints, guard/small forward
Tom Abercrombie, NZ Breakers, guard/small forward
Finn Delany, NZ Breakers/Nelson Giants, forward
Mika Vukona, NZ Breakers, forward (captain)
Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United. Forward
Rob Loe, NZ Breakers, centre
Alex Pledger, NZ Breakers/Southland Sharks, centre
Paul Henare, head coach
Pero Cameron, assistant coach
Michael Fitchett, assistant coach
Andrew Dewhurst, manager
Anousith Bouaaphone, physio
Shelley Moana Hiha, massage therapist
The men's non traveling reserves are: