New Zealand Select got their tour of China off to the best possible start, with Paul Henare’s young side defeating Cameroon 83-72 in front of a large crowd in Zongshan in the Guangzhou province.
Despite a delayed start to the game it was the inexperienced New Zealand side who came out of the blocks quickest, establishing a double-digit lead inside the first six minutes, a lead that Cameroon never really threatened throughout the remainder of the match.
The accuracy and pace of the New Zealanders was too much for Cameroon, with Tony Tolovae providing a real spark from the bench as he nailed his first three long range attempts, complementing the good work from the likes of Mike Karena and Tom Vodanovic in the paint.
Each time Cameroon tried to get a run going, the Kiwis found a response in an all-round team effort that pleased Paul Henare.
“I think that was a good first hit out, it was a different beast to the games we played against Japan. Cameroon have length and athleticism and at times we struggled with that and turned the b all over, but for the most part it was a really good start to the tour and I think they will learn a lot from this game. I look forward to continuing to teach them, Cameroon will get better, but I know our group will get better as well.”
Henare highlighted the learning is as much off court as on when you are playing for New Zealand Select.
“I think the guys dealt with the external distractions, they took it all in their stride and prepared well. Ethan is leading this team well and they prepared for it and accepted it and made sure they were ready at tip off. It felt like 8 or 10 minutes that we were waiting for the game to tip off after warm up. For them to come out and start the way they did was a credit to them.”
Henare was pleased with everyone finding their moments to contribute, even if things weren’t going their way at times.
“That has been a theme, we want these guys to step on the floor and have confidence in themselves and their skillset. They are here for a reason and at this level you can’t afford to turn down opportunities, you have to be ready to play whether it is 2 minutes or 22 minutes.”
Mike Karena led the offense for the Kiwis, with 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting while fellow big Tom Vodanovich quietly impressed with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Captain Ethan Rusbatch scored 12 points but more impressively picked up 7 boards while Tolovae had 12 points and 6 assists.
The popularity of the black singlet in China was evident after the match, as a security cordon had to hold back fans as they surrounded the team on court during their warm down, a sign of things to come on tour as the New Zealanders contemplate another four games, including three in a Four Nation Tournament in Hancheng.
Next up however is another pre-tournament clash with Cameroon, this time in Shunde, on Tuesday night NZT.
New Zealand Select 83 (Karena 15, Vodanovich 14, Rusbatch 12, Tolovae 12)