The MBO Tall Blacks have confirmed their ‘long list’ of players, from which the final 12 to be selected for the upcoming 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup will be drawn, with all players invited to attend a selection camp in Auckland in early August.
14 players will then be selected to travel to a World Cup preparation camp in Japan, phase one of the buildup. The final 12 to travel to China and play at the World Cup will then be named ahead of the two games against Canada in Australia on August 20 and 21 in Sydney.
Head Coach Paul Henare is delighted at the quality and depth of players putting their hand up for final selection and is relishing that challenge along with his assistant coaches in early August.
“Throughout this World Cup qualifying programme and even as far back as the 2017 Asia Cup we have looked to build our depth chart, at times by design and at times our hand was forced with player unavailability, but always in a positive way towards exposing more players to the Tall Blacks culture and having them ready to play on the international stage now or sometime in the future.
“We have arguably the most amount of talent we have had across all positions that we have ever had. It is a very good place to be in with our international programme. It makes the final selection tougher and choosing the final team will not be easy, but that is a good problem for me as a coach and for the selection panel to have.”
As with many sports, basketball operates on a four-year World Cup cycle, and much of Henare’s long-term planning has led to this moment, when he edges closer to naming his 12 to attend the tournament in China, starting on August 31st.
“In some respects, it has come around quick, but when you go back to the Asia Cup in 2017 and think how much has happened between now and then, it feels like it has taken some time. But seeing the number of players pull on the black singlet and represent New Zealand throughout the whole process has been very rewarding and we are at the stage now where we are very happy with the depth and talent that we have.”
While the entire team has a good deal of experience to call on, thanks to that selection policy throughout qualifying and with the New Zealand Select programme also exposing players to international play, Henare still expects to lean heavily on an experienced core, with the likes of Mika Vukona (3), Tom Abercrombie (2), Rob Loe, Corey Webster, Jarrod Kenny, Alex Pledger, Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster all having previous World Cup experience.
“They are crucial, you can look throughout the list and we have multiple guys that have been to at least one if not two World Cups and Mika has been to three. That sort of experience is invaluable at this level and we will rely on that to help us get through the next phase and achieve our goals.”
Henare is also pleased that he will have a number of lineups that he can throw at the opposition at any given time.
“We have a really good variety of talent across all positions. In the guards we have guys that can play multiple positions and it is the same with our bigs. We also have genuine size which is not something that Tall Black sides have had in the past. We will have genuine contenders and talent that will miss out on this team, that is a luxury to have, albeit a difficult one to manage when it comes time to making those final decisions.”
The list includes Steven Adams (Oklahoma Thunder) but is not a confirmation of the Kiwi centre’s availability, rather it allows for those conversations to continue and for Adams to be available for selection to China if he does make that call.
“Basketball New Zealand has been in regular communication with Steve and his agency and management at OKC,” said Henare. “We will look to conclude those conversations in the weeks ahead, but clearly Steve is a player we want wearing the black singlet.
“What he would bring to the team is international size, what he can do at the defensive end of the floor is phenomenal, with his ability to block and change shots and what he does from a rebounding perspective at both ends of the floor. That is something we have rarely had at our disposal is that genuine size and athleticism at that pivot spot. Obviously we would love to have him, but ultimately that decision comes down to Steve.”
Fellow centre Jack Salt has however made the tough call to make himself unavailable as he looks to transition from college to the pro ranks, after winning the NCAA title with Virginia earlier this year. Salt is currently working out in LA and will attend summer camp in Vegas post the NBA draft, with all of his attention on securing that first pro contract, with Europe a likely destination for the 23-year-old.
New Zealand is one of only five nations – joining USA, Serbia, Argentina and Spain – to have made it out of pool play in each of the past four FIBA Basketball World Cups, a record that Henare is particularly proud of but not one that the team talks about too much, with Henare suggesting this year’s format will be the toughest the team has ever faced.
“We don’t talk about it; it is one of those things that we have always been able to compete on the international stage and we will back ourselves to continue to progress through these FIBA tournaments.
“But this year is a little different, pool play is such that you only have three games and likely have to win two to make it through to the next stage of the tournament. Without taking anything away from those previous teams – all were superb in the way they represented our country, but I think this World Cup is arguably the toughest we have gone into, based purely on the smaller odds to get out of your pool.”
Along with the experienced hands like Vukona, Abercrombie, Loe, Kenny, Isaac Fotu, Pledger, Reuben Te Rangi, Shea Ili, Finn Delany, Jordan Ngatai and the Webster brothers Tai and Corey is a mix of exciting fresh young talent.
Notable inclusions are Taylor Britt, Kruz Perrott-Hunt and 17 year old Taine Murray in the guard line, while Dan Fotu joins his brother in the long list, alongside Max Darling, Yuat Alok and Yanni Wetzell who all return from overseas, as does Sam Timmins while Ethan Rusbatch, Tyrell Harrison and Tom Vodanovich get another chance to impress on the back of strong form in the Sal’s NBL.
Henare knows that the upcoming final selection camp will have an edge rarely seen, as first 14 and then 12 are ultimately named.
“There will be a massive edge, unfortunately it will lead to some disappointment for a number of the guys, with those tough decisions facing us as a coaching and selection panel. All we can ask is that everyone comes in and gives their all and puts their best foot forward and makes it as hard as they can for the selection panel.”
MBO Tall Blacks Long List (final 12 for the World Cup will be chosen from this group)
Shea Ili (Wellington Saints/NZ Breakers)
Tai Webster (Galatasaray)
Jarrod Kenny (Bay Hawks/Cairns Taipans)
Corey Webster (NZ Breakers)
Ethan Rusbatch (Bay Hawks)
Taylor Britt (Canterbury Rams)
Kruz Perrott-Hunt (Nelson Giants)
Taine Murray (Rosmini College)
Tom Abercrombie (Wellington Saints/NZ Breakers)
Jordan Ngatai (Wellington Saints/NZ Breakers)
Reuben Te Rangi (Wellington Saints/Brisbane Bullets)
Dan Fotu (St Mary’s College of California)
Mika Vukona (Nelson Giants/Brisbane Bullets) - WITHDRAWN due to injury.
Finn Delany (FMP Belgrade/NZ Breakers)
Isaac Fotu (Ratiopharm Ulm)
Max Darling (Vrijednosnice Osijek)
Tom Vodanovich (Southland Sharks)
Yanni Wetzell (Vanderbilt University)
Tohi Smith-Milner (Melbourne United)
Rob Loe (Wellington Saints/NZ Breakers)
Alex Pledger (Southland Sharks/Melbourne United)
Steven Adams (Oklahoma City Thunder) WITHDRAWN
Tyrell Harrison (Nelson Giants/Brisbane Bullets)
Yuat Alok (University of Central Florida)
Sam Timmins (University of Washington).
MBO Tall Blacks 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup Preparation Schedule
1 – 4 August: Selection camp, Auckland
5 – 15 August: Japan camp and games against Japan on August 12 and 14
16 – 22 August: Australian camp games against Canada on August 20 and 21
23 – 26 August: China tournament, games against France (Shenyang, August 24), Serbia (Anshan, August 25) and Italy (Anshan, August 26)
27 August onwards: 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Nanjing, China. Group F games as follows:
• 1 September 2019 – Tall Blacks vs Brazil
• 3 September 2019 – Tall Blacks vs Montenegro
• 5 September 2019 – Tall Blacks vs Greece
• Classification and/or second round games TBC
Ticketing details for games v Canada in Sydney: www.ticketek.com.au
Tuesday 20 August 2019 – Quaycentre, Sydney at 7.30pm (local)
Wednesday 21 August 2019 – Quaycentre, Sydney at 7.30pm (local)