Much has been said about the progress of the young Tall Blacks who patiently await their FIBA Asia Cup Quarter Final on Friday morning (6am NZT), against Jordan. The young team with an average age of 23 has shown steady improvement under the coaching team led by Paul Henare and the leadership of Captain Reuben Te Rangi.
This young New Zealand team has emerged from pool play at the Asia Cup with a now familiar rotation of players, with seven significant contributors most games in terms of minutes and output on the stat sheet.
But what of those who are not getting the court time, the players that work day in day out behind the scenes, giving their best on the practice floor knowing that they may not have too much of an opportunity to influence a game – at least not on the stat sheet?
Coach Henare is acutely aware of the importance of every player in any roster he works with, and says they all play a huge role on this tour.
“Naturally you are going to have some players that will not feature as much on the stat sheet as others, this is international basketball and minutes are not ‘shared around’ at this level at a FIBA tournament. That is perhaps even more so in such a young group, with some players experiencing this sort of international environment for the first time, and many of them are very young.
“The togetherness of this group however has been evident from the start of the tour. Every one of them is eager to learn, eager for the opportunity and hugely proud to represent their country, they all continue to work hard at training to be ready if called upon, and I know they will be if that opportunity arises.”
Luke Aston was one of the bolters named to tour, the Southland Shark impressing with his shooting and work ethic on the recent New Zealand Select Tour, the 26-year-old Otago Boys High old boy is loving being a Tall Black.
“It is high level basketball and it has been a great experience to be in amongst it and sponge as much as I can off everyone. New Zealand Select was a good step, and then playing China in camp was another step and then here in Beirut, being in that gym and part of the atmosphere against Lebanon the other night was just crazy.
“I have spoken with Pauli a few times and he has said ‘be ready’ and of course it is a team game and we are going well. It was tough in the beginning but we are winning and I am all the better for this experience for sure, but I am ready should I get the call.”
James (Jimmy) Hunter has been on a whirlwind, playing well for New Zealand Select in China, earning a fulltime contract with the SKYCITY Breakers and then this Tall Black opportunity. Hunter is looking to learn as much as he can from the coaches and players around him.“It is the international experience, the fact you come up against different teams every game and seeing how they play each day to the next. You have to shift so much in this environment, to see how it works and get this hit-out in the international environment, it is so good.“I like to joke around with the boys but when it is time to work I get down to work and focus on what is important. You never know when your name is going to get called, you have to be ready to execute, hit hard and make the most of the time you are out there. I am loving it, it is good fun.”
Dyson King-Hawea gained selection for New Zealand Select out of Australia where he has been playing most recently for the Nunawading Spectres. The former Fraser High School student has played State League in Australia and NBL in New Zealand.
“When I was selected I couldn’t wait to get to Auckland and start learning and working hard on the back of that Select Tour, and if I was to get the call again in the future, I would be even more rapt to be honest. I didn’t know what I was in for, coming from Select it is a different level again, even in camp the intensity was higher than Select and then playing in China, seeing the level of play was something I haven’t experienced before.
“I want a lot more of this for sure. This is my first FIBA tournament and first tour with the Tall Blacks, I still have so much to learn, but I want it for sure.”
Isaac Letoa is the youngest on tour, the Anchor Junior Tall Black turned 19 in China and when given his chance, he has not let the coaching staff down and is ready should he be called upon.
“Anytime I get the call up it is a great moment to be out there on the floor, compete and keep the same standard as the starters. That is my main goal, to keep the flow of the game going and do my best every time I get on the court.
“I didn’t have any real expectations or see myself playing for the Tall Blacks this year, but being part of it and embracing the culture of the Tall Blacks has been great, soaking up everything on and off court, preparation, keeping the body healthy and everything at the tournament has been a massive learning experience.
“Having top level coaching from Ross, Pero and Pauli has been great. Ross is great with the detail on the point guard stuff, so working with him at trainings is great, I am just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can.”
Henare says every player is contributing to the storied history of Tall Blacks culture and doing themselves, their families and the game proud here at the Asia Cup.
“Anyone who has been on tour knows that each and every player has a job to do, a role to play. Sometimes they may not get the minutes they want and that is fine, I want every player to be hungry to pull on the singlet and go to work, I want them to let me know that.
“Every one of these players is giving their all and leaving nothing to chance, they might be young, but they are stepping up big time on and off court.”
The Tall Blacks play Jordan in the quarter finals of the FIBA Asia Cup on Friday morning, tip off at 6am NZT.
The game will be livestreamed by Maori Television, who have said they have answered the call from New Zealand basketball fans. They will be providing free-to-view streaming of all remaining Tall Blacks games from the FIBA Asia Cup. This is the only free to air coverage available in New Zealand, and will screen via www.maoritelevision.com.
All Tall Blacks games, plus the Grand Final will be available to view for 14 days after each match. For broadcast information on subsequent qualifying games, check www.maoritelevision.com