MBO Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare is ready for the noise and the challenge of a desperate Lebanon in Friday night’s (Saturday morning NZT) FIBA World Cup Basketball qualifier in Beirut.

Henare has had his team together for two days training in Beirut ahead of the two World Cup qualifying final games in Beirut and then in Amman against Jordan. While the MBO Tall Blacks have already booked a spot at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, he is determined to continue a nine-game unbeaten run against a Lebanese team that must win to keep their hopes alive.

Highlighting the truly international nature of the sport, Beirut has become a familiar hunting ground for the Tall Blacks, having already played in the FIBA Asia Cup in 2017 and against Syria in September last year. That experience could prove vital at a stadium that is renowned for the incredible noise and passion of a fanatical group of supporters, with basketball the national sport in Lebanon.

“It is going to be an awesome atmosphere. The game is sold out and after reading some of the local previews for the game they know what is on the line for them. It is a must win game for them, so it will be a great atmosphere and great energy in the arena. They will be fired up, so it is going to be a great challenge for us,” said Henare.

The Tall Blacks won the earlier clash between the two teams in Rotorua, but only just, edging a dour defensive encounter 63-60. The Tall Blacks only took the lead in the final 90 seconds of that clash.

“They will go into this game with a lot of confidence. They are bringing back three of their topline players that they didn’t have in that game. Abdel Nour is one of their most experienced guards; Saoud, the shooter who didn’t play; and Wael Arajki, their best point guard for the past few years are all back. They will look at that game and feel like they let one slip and come in here with confidence.”

Henare described the juggling act that is being a national coach within the confines of the FIBA windows.

“It is about getting everyone on the same page from a systematic point of view and also it is an interesting time of the year with guys coming off the back of their NBL seasons with niggling injuries – nothing serious, but we are just trying to find that balance between load and productivity and time on the floor.”

Henare says that recent experience in Lebanon and specifically in the famed Nawfur Stadium in Beirut is vital ahead of such a vital game, with Lebanon playing to keep their own World Cup hopes alive.

“We have five of that group from the Asia Cup who know what it is to play Lebanon with a full house in this venue and had some good success. So, for those guys to walk into this gym knowing what to expect is a good advantage. And for some of the senior guys to hear about that from the younger group, there is an air of excitement for the senior guys to experience that. We are definitely not going to be intimidated by it, if anything the guys are champing at the bit to get into it.

“They cram the fans in and I am no expert, but it seems with all the concrete around that, once the sound starts, it just keeps bouncing around and echoing in there. We have spoken about the need for our communication to be good and to have our hand systems down and to huddle on the floor when we need to, because it will be hard to communicate verbally during the game.”

Henare says his team will stick to the formula that has proven successful to this point, winning nine games on the trot after a first up loss to Korea in Wellington in late 2017, with the scoring load spread across the group.

“We expect Corey (Webster) to take his opportunities for us, hopefully he gets a few of those and gets some rhythm going. But we have done this by committee throughout the qualifying run when we have had different guys step up at different times. We will be leaning on all of those guys and their experience to carry the workload.”

The team plays Lebanon on Friday night, travels to Amman in Jordan on Saturday, plays on Sunday afternoon and then travel back to various destinations that same night in what is a hectic schedule, but Henare is not looking beyond the first hurdle.

“We haven’t looked at Jordan too much at all really, that is important for the group to know we are 100% focused on this one and we will worry about Jordan after this is done.”

MBO Tall Blacks vs Lebanon and Jordan

Tom Abercrombie, SKYCITY Breakers
Finn Delany, SKYCITY Breakers
Tyrell Harrison, Brisbane Bullets
Shea Ili, SKYCITY Breakers
Jarrod Kenny, Cairns Taipans
Rob Loe, Cairns Taipans
Jordan Ngatai, SKYCITY Breakers
Kruz Perrott-Hunt, SKYCITY Breakers Development
Alex Pledger, Melbourne United
Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United
Reuben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets
Tom Vodanovich, SKYCITY Breakers 
Mika Vukona. Mike Pero Nelson Giants, Brisbane Bullets
Corey Webster. SKYCITY Breakers


Head Coach Paul Henare
Assistant Coaches Pero Cameron, Michael Fitchett
Physio Anousith Bouaaphone
Massage Therapist Shelley Moana Hiha
Doctor Hamish Osborne
Manager Andrew Dewhurst


vs Lebanon in Beirut on 22 February (livestream on www.MaoriTelevision.com 8:30am Saturday 23 Feb NZT. And on Maori TV delayed: 11pm, Saturday 23 Feb NZT)
vs Jordan in Amman on 24 February (livestream on www.MaoriTelevision.com 3:30am Monday 25 Feb NZT. And on Te Reo channel, delayed to 8pm Monday 25 Feb NZT)