Basketball New Zealand has named a strong New Zealand Select team to play six games on an intensive tour of China next month. Led by Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare, the team highlights the pathway developing out of the Sal’s NBL, with all but one of the players and coaching staff coming from that competition.

As is always the case with the New Zealand Select Programme, the group is a mix of emerging talent selected alongside those with experience at a higher level, as the desire to win games is mixed with the need to develop playing talent.

Coach Henare says he’s excited about this young squad.

“New Zealand Select is a great initiative and has already seen great results, with a number of players emerging from these tours to put pressure on others ahead of them in the pecking order, or for some to cement places in the MBO Tall Blacks.

“We selected a group of highly promising and mainly young talent from the Sal’s NBL. We will place them in an international environment that will require them to go to a higher level and expose them to the challenges that international basketball can bring.

“While there is an element of development about this team, we are very clear that our goal is to win. When we step on the floor wearing black, there are certain standards and expectations that we place upon ourselves, let alone the expectations that the Chinese will have for us.”

Leading the way are the likes of Derone Raukawa (Southland Sharks), Ethan Rusbatch (Bay Hawks) and Isaac Letoa (Dartmouth University, USA). All three have recent Tall Blacks experience and will be expected to lead this team on an arduous programme in China.

Guard Alonzo Burton was in the recent Tall Blacks training camp in Wellington and brings great form (averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists per game) for his Taranaki Mountain Airs team to the tour. Canterbury Rams pair Tony Tolovae and Mike Karena have both worn the black singlet on previous New Zealand Select or Tall Black tours, including Karena’s time at the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Philippines.

There is a call up for Sharks 23-year-old big man Tom Vodanovich. The former Junior Tall Black returned to New Zealand in 2017 after spending four years at James Madison University in the States and has impressed with his strong defence and versatility in the Sal’s NBL, posting 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17 minutes per game as the Sharks again contend for the title.

Similarly, Dominique Kelman-Poto has emerged from the Sal’s NBL, in a team that has struggled for wins in the Super City Rangers. Kelman-Poto is averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds as one of the mainstays of the side, with Henare keen to see him at a higher level.

James Hunter will provide energy and hustle in the paint as he and Karena battle for minutes at centre; the Southland Sharks big man is posting 10 points and 6 boards per game in the current campaign and will look to build on his previous experience in the black singlet.

Rounding out the group are youngsters Taylor Britt (Rams), Hyrum Harris (Hawks) and Mitch Newton (Hawks) as all three are given a shot at experiencing international basketball early in their careers after showing great promise in their minutes in the Sal’s NBL.

Emphasizing the links to the Sal’s NBL and the further growth and development of that competition is that all three assistant coaches come from that league, with Judd Flavell (Southland Sharks), Mark Dickel (Canterbury Rams) and Trent Adam (Taranaki Mountain Airs) deserving of an opportunity to further their coaching careers on the international stage.

“The relationship we are building between Basketball New Zealand, our national teams and the Sal’s NBL teams is getting stronger and stronger,” said Henare. 

“We have enjoyed great support from them in regards the MBO Tall Blacks campaign and the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Windows and likewise they have been totally supportive of the Select programme and what we are trying to achieve.

“That now works two ways, with coaches able to contribute to the national programme, and then take any lessons back into their Sal’s NBL teams. They are all here on merit and are established head coaches in that environment. I am looking forward to working with them and the players on this tour.”

Also on the management team is Southland Sharks physiotherapist Hayden Sproat, as he gets his first taste of international touring.

The team will assemble on Monday 6 August, immediately after the Sal’s NBL Finals Weekend, and in a coup for New Zealand Basketball, play two games against Japan before departing for China on 10 August.

The Southland Sharks, Bay Hawks and Canterbury Rams all have three players each in the 12-man roster, with the Sharks looking assured of playoff action. The Hawks and Rams are in a tight battle for the fourth and final spot in Wellington, with semi-finals to be played on Saturday 4 August, and the Grand Final on Sunday August 5.

While on tour, New Zealand Select will play internationals against Cameroon, Montenegro and a regional Jiansu team, with games in Zhongshan, Shunde, Hangchen and Guangzhou.

New Zealand Select Schedule:

7 August, vs Japan, Auckland (closed session)
8 August, vs Japan, Auckland (closed session)
10-22 August, Tour of China


Derone Raukawa, SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks
Isaac Letoa, NCAA, Dartmouth College
Taylor Britt, Canterbury Rams
Ethan Rusbatch, Taylor Hawks
Alonzo Burton, Augusta Taranki Mountainairs


Tony Tolovae, Wheeler Motor Canterbury Rams
Hyrum Harris, Taylor Hawks
Tom Vadonovich, SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks
Dominique Kelman-Poto, 2 Cheap Cars Supercity Rangers
Mitchell Newton, Taylor Hawks 


James Hunter, SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks
Michael Karena, Wheeler Motor Canterbury Rams


Head Coach, Paul Henare
Assistant Coaches: Judd Flavell (SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks/SKYCITY Breakers), Mark Dickel (Wheeler Motor Canterbury Rams), Trent Adam (Augusta Taranki Mountainairs)
Physiotherapist, Hayden Sproat (SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks)
Manager, Andrew Dewhurst