While Australia is looking set to field the majority of their NBA and European stars in the 2015 FIBA Oceania Olympic qualifiers in August, New Zealand has named a 22-man squad that will assemble at a camp in Auckland in early July. Tall Blacks head coach Paul Henare has included Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams despite the NBA player having not yet indicated any form of commitment to the series.
Following the selection camp, Henare will be selecting a squad of 14 that he will take to Europe in preparation for the match-up against the Boomers. The Tall Blacks will play warm up games in London, Croatia and Slovenia in a similar schedule to that being taken by Andrej Lemanis' Australian side. Their schedule includes a berth in the 2015 Stankovic Cup, taking on the likes of China, Mexico and Venezuela.
While the Tall Blacks will be looking to return the core group from their 2014 World Cup campaign, the squad overall is very young as Henare aims to hasten the transition of the next generation of New Zealand stars.
“We have a strong core group of players returning from the 2014 World Cup, with Mika, Corey, Tom, Rob, Isaac, Lindsay, Jarrod and Everard all bringing that experience back to our programme in 2016 at a vital time as we chance a place in Rio,” outlined Henare.
“There are also some quality young players coming through and each one will be given the chance to shine and force their way into the team. Perhaps more so than ever before we have good depth in most positions and a genuine rivalry just to get on to the Tall Blacks long list, let alone on to the touring roster.”
While Adams has been named more in hope than anything else, players not available for selection include Tall Blacks stalwart Kirk Penney (Seville, Spain), Tai Webster (Nebraska) and Alex Pledger. Pledger continues his rehabilitation following foot surgery.
Based on the squad selected, it is hard not to see Tom Abercrombie linking with rising star Rob Loe and veteran Mika Vukona in the front court. Lindsay Tait and Corey Webster are likely to spearhead the back court to round out a potential starting five.
On paper, the Tall Blacks appear outmatched in size, talent and depth when compared to the likely Australian lineup boast as many as 6 current NBA players, including 2015 NBA finalists Andrew Bogut (Golden State) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland). However Henare is well aware of the challenge facing his side, but notes it is not necessarily a new scenario facing New Zealand basketball in their quest to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“Australia will be NBA laden and favourites for sure, I can’t recall ever playing them when that wasn’t the case," further explained Henare.
"We understand that challenge but are ready to take it on and believe we can get the win across the two games and book a spot in Rio. That is our sole focus, we will prepare with that series in mind and be ready to give it our all in August."
Tall Black Squad: Thomas Abercrombie, (New Zealand Breakers), Steven Adams (Oklahoma City), Jarrod Kenny (Hawke's Bay), Robert Loe (KAOD, Greece), Jordan Ngatai (Manawatu), Dion Prewster (Wellington), Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury), Lindsay Tait (Wellington), Reuben Te Rangi (New Zealand Breakers), Samuel Timmins (Canterbury), Mika Vukona (New Zealand Breakers), Corey Webster (New Zealand Breakers), Tai Wynyard (New Zealand Breakers), Matthew Freeman (SuperCity), Casey Frank (SuperCity), Izayah Mauriohooho Le'afa (Wellington).
Tall Blacks 2015 Schedule
8-10 July: Trial in Auckland 11-18 July: Preparation camp in Napier, New Zealand 19 July: Depart for Europe 25 July: vs Great Britain, London 29 July: vs Croatia, venue TBC 30 July: vs Slovenia, venue TBC 3-8 August: Stankovic Cup (China, Mexico, Venezuela), venue TBC 11-13 August: Training camp in Auckland 15 August: FIBA Oceania Series v Australia, Melbourne, Rod Laver Arena 18 August: FIBA Oceania Series, v Australia, Wellington