Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare has named a New Zealand Select Team to travel to China to play in an invitational tournament next month, with the main feature being the youthful nature of the team and their relative inexperience at international level, something that excites rather than concerns the national team coach.
There are familiar faces in Finn Delany (Nelson Giants/SKYCITY Breakers), Jordan Ngatai (Wellington Saints), Derone Raukawa (Southland Sharks), Tony Tolovae (Bay Hawks), Yanni Wetzell (Vanderbilt University USA) and Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury Rams), all of whom suited up for the NZ Select in 2016, with all but Tolovae and Wetzell also appearing for the Tall Blacks last season.
It is however a young team short on international experience, with an average age of under 23 and no players who might be termed ‘regular Tall Blacks’ just yet in their careers.
In a curious twist however, this is something that excites Henare.
“One of the things I like about this group is the relative inexperience in international basketball for most of these guys. That’s not usually something to get excited about but I like the fact that these guys will be tested and taken out of their comfort zones.
“Seeing how they react to that is what excites me because then you’ll see who can operate under pressure at this level. The guys that have played in the NBL have all had very good seasons. That’s just part of the reason for their selection though, they all earned positive endorsements from their coaches as to their character and commitment to the game on and off court, which is important when we have such high standards within our environment.”
And it is with a big picture view that this team is selected. With New Zealand about to embark on a new era of basketball playing in the Asian Federation (CLICK HERE to go to the FIBA website for more), Henare has taken the unusual step of leading this group overseas, to help develop the players and the support staff ahead of what will be a demanding international schedule of World Cup qualifiers for the Tall Blacks.
“The purpose of this team is to expose players to some international hoops to see how they perform and to see how they interact within the group. We’re looking for guys that can step into the Tall Blacks if called upon – that is the guts of why this team exists and why Basketball New Zealand has invested in the concept. It’s a short window where some of the Tall Blacks coaching and management team can get to know these guys a bit better, which helps if or when their name is called for higher honours.”
Henare has high expectations of the group and their ability to take lessons on board in a short space of time.
“We have some guys that have played for the Tall Blacks - albeit very briefly. Ethan, Finn, Jordan and Derone have all pulled on the black singlet, so they know what to expect. They also have a responsibility in reinforcing good values and habits on tour with the other guys, which is something that I will be demanding of all of them.
“The youth we have will create some really good energy too. Guys like Jo Cook-Green, Sam Timmins and Yanni Wetzell have all been plying their trade in the US for their respective teams and will no doubt be looking to impress in this short timeframe. But I know every player, coach and member of the support staff will be champing at the bit to make the most of this experience.”
Henare will oversee the tour, but plans on taking a back seat to Assistant Coaches Mike Fitchett and Lindsay Tait, as they too are given the chance to learn the ropes on the international stage.
“This team is not just about the players gaining experience. It also creates an opportunity for us to bring in people who could benefit from this experience as well. Our National Teams Operations Manager Peter Kadar will travel as team manager and learn the “other side” of managing the team which will be different to his largely domestic based campaign and programme planning responsibilities.
“Lindsay Tait, a long servant of the black singlet, has expressed an interest in getting into coaching and learning all aspects of the role. His playing experience will offer a unique insight for some of our younger guys to learn from. He’s already learning the scouting side of the job under the guidance of fellow assistant coach Mike Fitchett. Mike is also looking to gain experience from this and build on his time with the New Zealand Breakers and national age group representative sides.
“Finally, Paora Winitana will join us as our Cultural Ambassador. Paora was a long time Tall Black and will offer guidance and counsel to the players and support staff while we are away. Paora was also instrumental in writing and choreographing our Tall Black haka, Tu Kaha o Pango. While the team will not perform the haka (this is reserved for the Tall Blacks) while we are on tour, they will learn the meaning of it and how to perform it under Paora’s watchful eye.”
The team will assemble in Auckland to depart for China on June 20 for a twelve-day tour, tournament details are yet to be confirmed by the Chinese hosts.
New Zealand Select Team to tour China, June 2017 - * notes first time selected for a New Zealand team
Luke Aston, Southland Sharks (NBL)*, Guard, 201cm, 28/06/1990; Alonzo Burton, Taranaki MountainAirs (NBL), Guard, 193cm, 4/10/1993, NZU16, U17; Joe Cook-Green, Northwest Florida State College (NJCAA), Guard, 185cm, 24/07/1997, NZU17, U18, Junior Tall Blacks; Finn Delany, Nelson Giants (NBL) / NZ Breakers (ANBL), Forward, 200cm, 12/08/1995, NZ Select, Tall Blacks; James Hunter, Southland Sharks (NBL)*, Forward, 208cm, 19/06/1991; Dyson King-Hawea, Nunawading Spectres (MEBA, AUS)*, Forward, 198cm, 15/10/1992; Jordan Ngatai, Wellington Saints (NBL), Forward, 195cm, 7/03/1993, NZ Select, Tall Blacks; Derone Raukawa, Southland Sharks (NBL), Guard, 181cm, 24/07/1994, NZ Select, Tall Blacks; Ethan Rusbatch, Canterbury Rams (NBL), Guard, 196cm, 4/05/1992, NZ Select, Tall Blacks; Sam Timmins, University of Washington (NCAA D1), Forward, 210cm, 23/05/1997, NZU17, Junior Tall Blacks, 3X3 U18 World Champion; Tony Tolovae, Hawks Bay Hawks (NBL), Guard, 192cm, 25/10/1992, NZ Select; Yanni Wetzell, Vanderbilt University (NCAA D1), Forward, 205cm, 8/07/1996, NZ Select; Team Management: Paul Henare, Head Coach Michael Fitchett, Assistant Coach Lindsay Tait, Assistant Coach Anousith Bouaphone, Physiotherapist Paora Winitana, Cultural Ambassador Peter Kadar, Team Manager