The MBO (pronounced: maybo) Tall Blacks take on the might of China in a FIBA World Cup Qualifier on Friday night (0030 Saturday morning NZT) and do so with a good understanding of their opponent and the new shortened FIBA windows.
The team has been together for two days in Dongguan preparing for the game, with players coming in from New Zealand, Australia, Israel and Germany. Head Coach Paul Henare says having a good scout on the opposition is always critical, but even more so in such a short timeframe.
“We had a good look at China last year, they brought this same team down to Auckland and we played a couple of games against them and then played them in China and also saw them at the Asia Cup, so we know them pretty well. We know their personnel and style, and recognise their strengths and weaknesses. They are led by good guard play and have some good size inside as well, so we know we are in for a battle.”
Henare described what might be called typical ‘Tall Blacks basketball’ when talking about the keys to success against such a powerhouse as China.
“We need to create some pressure with our defence and how we play and what we do at the defensive end. We need to keep some scoreboard pressure on them and keep them on the back foot. We have some good dynamic scoring options in the Webster brothers from the perimeter and having someone like Isaac Fotu who can operate from the block – it is a different look. While they might say the same that they know us, we are a different team from the one they played last year.”
Guard Corey Webster will be a key cog in that Tall Blacks side, with his scoring ability a threat to any team in the world, as well as his leadership as one of the senior players in the team these days.
“It is great to be back in camp, to see my brother and all the boys, it is always good to catch up after being away for a while, especially being so far away now in a different country.”
Webster played at the World Cup in Spain and knows what the prospect of playing in the 2019 World Cup in China means for the team.
“These games are huge for us, we have been to all the World Champs since I can remember, and we don’t want to miss out on this one. We have a great group of guys, up and coming talent with a great group of veterans. This is a great opportunity to qualify, it is tough, but that is what we want. Going to the big tournaments New Zealand is always the underdog, but we always do our country proud against some of the biggest basketball nations. We definitely want to be in China next year.”
China do bring one new player to the table, and he is a handy addition to their roster, with NBA experience.
“They have brought in Yi JianLian who has NBA experience, is an athletic seven-footer who can put the ball on the floor. The addition of a player like that to any team would strengthen what they do, but the majority of the team is what we have seen before.”
Henare says he and his coaching staff have made some adjustments, with the experience of November 2017 fresh in their minds, when they suffered a surprise defeat to Korea in Wellington to commence their World Cup qualifying campaign.
“Traditionally we have always been limited in our preparation time, but in the past that has been one or two weeks, now we have one or two days legitimate practice time and that is new and different. But I feel like we are ahead of where we were in November, in that short amount of time it is about simplifying what we are trying to do and being really good at those things.”
The game is the first of two in this FIBA window. The MBO Tall Blacks go on to play South Korea in Seoul on 26 February, but for the moment, the focus is China on Friday night.
• 24 February, 12:30am NZT: China v MBO Tall Blacks. Livestreamed on maoritelevision.com and delayed broadcast on Maori TV at 1pm, 24 Feb.
• 26 February, 11:30pm NZT: Korea V MBO Tall Blacks. Livestreamed on moaritelevision.com and broadcast on Maori TV 2330-0130.
Tickets for the home games – MBO Tall Blacks vs Hong Kong in Rotorua on 28 June and vs China in Auckland on 1 July – will go on sale in April or early May.
FIBA World Cup Qualifiers: Round 1, Group A – Tall Blacks Games
New Zealand is in Group A for the first window, along with China, South Korea and Hong Kong. The top three will progress and carry points through to next window of qualifying.
• 23 November v South Korea, in Wellington. (Tall Blacks lost 80 – 86)
• 26 November v Hong Kong, in Hon Kong. (Tall Blacks won 133 – 74).
• 23 February v China, Dongguan Basketball Center, China. (NZT: 12:30am 24 Feb).
• 26 February v South Korea, Jamsil Arena, Seoul. (NZT: 11:30pm).
• 28 June v Hong Kong, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. 7pm.
• 1 July v China, Spark Arena, Auckland. 3:30pm.
• Read the longlist of 24 players named last October.
• The meaning of Tu Kaha, the Tall Blacks haka
• Learn more about the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers (Asia Zone).
• Tall Blacks supporters gear can be purchased here.
• Follow the Tall Blacks’ social media channels: @TallBlacks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
• Tall Blacks media releases.
• All Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifying games will be broadcast by Maori Television.