Image: New Zealand Coaches with Qatar Basketball President Ahmed Al Muftah.
Just days out from the next round of FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, the MBO Tall Blacks can look back on a week of hard graft and excellent progress during their camp in Doha – well, that is they could, but they are not a team that spends much time looking over their shoulders.
Hosted superbly by the Qatar Basketball Federation (they are themselves preparing for games in the upcoming window, including a home game v Australia), the Tall Blacks have spent every moment of every day in Doha looking to improve and be ready for when the opening jump ball goes up in Beirut on the 13th (local time) against Syria, and then for a mouth watering clash with Lebanon in Rotorua on the 17th (7pm Energy Events Centre).
Head Coach Paul Henare likes what he sees in the group and believes they are timing their run nicely for the upcoming games.
“Unlike most of the other windows, this is a longer time span and allowed us some preparation for the two games. In November and February, we won’t have that luxury, with players literally coming in from their club teams a couple of days before we play.
“After a shaky start and taking a few days to get our legs back after the travel and adjusting to the heat and humidity, the boys have turned the corner and I believe are in a good place ahead of these two games. They have worked their buts off and will continue to do all they can to be ready physically and mentally for a challenging few days.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Qatar for hosting us, in times when we are scrambling for every dollar and having to pick and choose where and when we spend, Qatar has enabled us to prepare well for these games and looked after us in every way, including the two scrimmages against their team. I have no doubt this is a relationship that will benefit both nations, but we are hugely grateful for this opportunity, the boys have enjoyed their time here.”
The team travels into Beirut tomorrow, and has one further training session on the 12th before taking on Syria on the 13th, a nation that does not play home games in Syria, but ironically at the home stadium of another of New Zealand’s opponents in the final qualifying round, Lebanon.
The team will return to the venue of the 2017 Asia Cup at the Nouhad Nawfal Stadium, a venue that brings back great memories and a genuine excitement amongst the group.
Reuben Te Rangi led a young New Zealand team to the semifinals at that tournament, famously defeating Lebanon in the noisiest and most intimidating atmospheres that the players and coaches could recall being in, the noise making any verbal communication more or less impossible.
“That was such a highlight – sure we were disappointed not to get a medal (the team lost to Korea without an injured Ili in the bronze medal match), but the venue was crazy, the loudest I have ever played in for sure,” said Te Rangi.
“There are a few of us from that team and we know what to expect, we are looking forward to something similar against Syria. And for those that weren’t there, they want to experience it for themselves and can’t wait for the game.”
Once that game is negotiated – and that is clearly the focus for the players and coaches, the team will board a plane that same night bound for Singapore (via Doha), where the team will bunker down for the night before stepping aboard the Air New Zealand flight bound for Auckland, where a bus awaits to take them on the final leg to Rotorua.
You can understand then with the time spent away, the hostile away environments (only in the sense of passionate home fans) and the travel factor, that the team can’t wait to walk out at the Energy Events Centre on the 17th.
“We are lucky to be playing in these days when we are in Asia, and we now get to play regularly at home in World Cup qualifying games against quality teams. Players in the generations before us did not have that luxury, with many playing all of their international basketball away from home,” said Te Rangi.
“That just makes it all the more special for us. Home wins are vital, and the fans play their part in leveling the playing field and giving us that advantage on our own floor in our own country. Hong Kong was fun, and a full house enjoyed the action, but Lebanon will be another level, they are a quality team. Our fans need to know they can make the difference, we can’t wait and hope to play in front of another full stadium in Rotorua on the 17th.”
FIBA World Cup Qualifying
Along with China and Korea, New Zealand has crossed over into Group E, carrying points from their earlier group with them (5 wins, 1 loss), and will play home and away games against Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Group F contains Australia, Iran, Philippines, Japan, Kazakhstan and Qatar.
The top three teams in each of the two final groups will qualify for China 2019, along with the best fourth placed team from the two final groups. Complicating the process is that China, as hosts of the World Cup, do not count in the final placings, but will continue to play out their remaining matches.
CLICK HERE for group standings and link to all remaining games
MBO Tall Blacks World Cup Qualifying
v Syria, September 13, Beirut, 5pm tip off local time
v Lebanon, September 17, Rotorua, 7pm tip off, tickets at www.ticketmaster.co.nz
Guards: Shea Ili, SKYCITY Breakers; Jarrod Kenny, Cairns Taipans; Ethan Rusbatch, Bay Hawks; Tai Webster, Galatasaray (Turkey);
Forwards: Reuben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets; Dion Prewster, Bay Hawks; Jordan Ngatai, SKYCITY Breakers; Isaac Fotu, Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany); Finn Delany, SKYCITY Breakers; Mika Vukona, Brisbane Bullets;
Centres: Rob Loe, Cairns Taipans; Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United
Head Coach: Paul Henare
Assistant Coaches: Pero Cameron, Mike Fitchett
Physiotherapist: Anousith Bouaaphone
Massage Therapist: Shelley Moana Hiha
Manager: Andrew Dewhurst
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND TWO
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
AWAY: 13 Sep 2018 vs Syria, Nouhad Nawfal Stadium, Zouk Mikael, Lebanon
HOME: 17 Sep 2018 vs Lebanon, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tip off 7pm
HOME: 29 Nov 2018 vs Jordan, Horncastle Arena, Christchurch
HOME: 2 Dec 2018 vs Syria, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
AWAY: 21 or 22 Feb 2019 vs Lebanon in Lebanon
AWAY: 24 or 25 Feb 2019 vs Jordan in Jordan
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND ONE
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
23 Nov 2017 vs Korea at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington. Tall Blacks lost 80-86
26 Nov 2017 vs Hong Kong at Southourn Stadium, Hong Kong. Tall Blacks won 133-74
23 Feb 2018 vs China at Dongguan Basketball Centre, China. Tall Blacks won 82-73
26 Feb 2018 vs Korea at Jamsil Gymnasium, Seoul, South Korea. Tall Blacks won 93-84
28 Jun 2018 vs Hong Kong at Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tall Blacks won 124-65
1 Jul 2018 vs China vs Spark Arena, Auckland. Tall Blacks won 67-57
• Learn more about the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers (Asia Zone) here.
• Tall Blacks supporters gear can be purchased here.
• Follow the Tall Blacks’ social media channels: @TallBlacks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Hashtags: #TuKaha #TallBlacks #FIBAWC #ThisIsMyHouse
• Tall Blacks website
• Read about Tu Kaha and the Tall Blacks culture
• The games will be broadcast live by the Host Broadcaster, Maori Television.
Watch the Tu Kaha webisode series on the Tall Blacks here.