The New Zealand Junior Tall Blacks team to compete at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup has been named, with many of those who earned the historic first ever win over Australia to qualify booking their places in Cairo in early July.
Head Coach Daryl Cartwright is excited about the group that will for the first time in New Zealand’s history, play at a FIBA U19 World Cup having won their qualifying tournament (defeating Australia at the Oceania Championships last year in Fiji) after playing in 2009 as host country.
“It was one of the things we pushed at the Oceania Qualifiers is that ‘everything is impossible until someone does it for the first time’ and of course we were massively proud as a group to defeat Australia and achieve a first for a New Zealand team with a hugely talented group of young men,” said Cartwright.
“They are also young men of great character, with wonderful family support to help them get to where we are today.”
It won’t come as a surprise to those who follow the game given the current strength across the entire code, but this is a strong team based on a core group that have played plenty of basketball together through the New Zealand age group teams, as well as last year’s qualifying win in Fiji.
It is also a team with considerable size, with the New Zealand associations and pathways continuing to produce a raft of quality young ‘bigs’, with Callum McRae, Angus McWilliam, Sam Waardenburg and Tai Wynyard all standing at 6’10” or taller.
“As coaches we stood on the sideline at our final camp and we see a guy at 7’1” and four others at 6’10” vying for places on the team. That is a big lineup and would have to be the biggest junior national team ever assembled, bigger than most Tall Black teams from the past few years.
“But there is also talent in the guard line and right across the roster, we have depth in all five positions and guys who have experience playing for New Zealand internationally. Not only do they bring talented skill sets but a good understanding of the game.”
New Zealand has been done no favours in the draw, with one of the gold medal favourites France, South American powerhouse Argentina and world number 15 ranked Korea to contend with. Cartwright knows that every game is going to be a huge test of the physical and mental strength of his side.
“We don’t take notice of outside pressure, our sole goal when taking over the role going to Oceania was to qualify so they had the opportunity to play at a FIBA World Cup. Now is not the time to celebrate that and just go for the ride, our goal is to come out of pool play into the round of 16 with as high a ranking as we can achieve, that will help us with the crossover game in the round of 16 (Group A crossed with Group B in the round of 16). Any kind of silverware would be nice of course, but we are not getting ahead of ourselves, our focus is on pool play and one game at a time.”
Cartwright was quick to acknowledge the great work being done by coaches, associations and families around the country when naming the team.
“I have mentioned this before and did so at the Oceania Championships, I take this team on as a culmination of the hard work going on within all of our associations and by many coaches and families. The ever-improving development and knowledge base of our coaches is seeing the talent we produce getting better and better.
“Australia has traditionally been our nemesis with a well-funded basketball machine, we have had to go up against that without the same resource but thanks to families helping fund athletes programmes and coaches tapping into the knowledge and resource being made available, we are closing the gap. Everyone has played their part and can be rightly proud of this team heading away next month.”
Cartwright says the health of the game at the moment goes beyond this group, with a raft of talented young New Zealanders – male and female, making their mark on the world stage.
“Look at the recent few years intake into American College’s and our athletes are not going to just any school, they are going to the top division one basketball programmes. The quality of our young players has the attention of the top coaches in the USA. Just this week I had a number of those coaches on the phone, asking about our group and who was coming through. That is exciting for our sport and great for the quality of players that will soon be in the frame for Tall Black selection.”
Amongst those not to make the team included some struck down by injury at the wrong time, with Dan Fotu (North Harbour), Takiula Fahrensohn (Waitakere West Auckland) and Samson Aruwa (Auckland) not able to press their claims for inclusion.
2017 Junior Tall Blacks for the FIBA U19 World Championship, Cairo July 1 to 9.
Josh Aitcheson, Flynn Cameron, Tobias Cameron, Quinn Clinton, Toby Gillooly, Isaac Letoa, Hamish McDonald, Callum McRae, Angus McWilliam, Taane Samuel, Samuel Waardenburg, Tai Wynyard.
Image and Press Release courtesy of Basketball NZ