The Tall Blacks have finished fourth at the FIBA Asia Cup, losing the bronze medal to Korea, 80-71. The undermanned New Zealanders went in without star point guard Shea Ili, his split webbing keeping him out of the game altogether, while Sam Timmins, Finn Delany and Derone Raukawa were all battling illness but took to the floor. After a good start and leading 13-5, the Tall Blacks fell into a hole and the Koreans found their range from deep, to lead 25-17 at the end of the first quarter, and 44-31 at halftime. “We started the game off well in terms of the scoreboard, but defensively we were having breakdowns and Korea were missing shots. Those breakdowns soon caught up with us though and their shooters got their eye in and got some momentum. But the second quarter was improved and again though we got within striking distance and yet again this young group showed the fight to stay involved in a game and give thsemvlves a chance. They played a really good second half but unfortunately it wasn’t enough and Korea deserved that win tonight.” That comeback was built primarily on the scoring of Delany and captain Reuben Te Rangi, with Te Rangi scoring the first 6 points of the second half to bring his side back into the contest. Henare was going deep into the roster though, as tired bodies started to falter.
“Losing Shea was tough, he has had a great tournament and been arguably our best player, that was always going to be a tough ask. We experimented with Reuben at the point and I thought he did a good job. Different guys got different opportunities, I think everyone got on the floor tonight and everyone that came on had an impact, and that is pleasing to see we have gotten to the point with those guys that any of them can be called on at any given time.”
Henare took time to reflect on a wonderful tour and a hugely impressive fourth place finish for a team that some had written off before they left New Zealand. “To be honest I looked at our draw and the tournament and had a fair idea of what we were up against. I thought if we can get out of the group stage and see if we can advance from there. Obviously, you want to go as far as you can, but from early on against Kazakhstan and what we did to win that and then the maturity they showed against Lebanon gave us all so much belief. They have exceeded almost everyone’s expectations and that is impressive.
“This whole process of taking an inexperienced side away had a whole lot of unknows as to how it would play out. But hand on heart, this group has put their own unique mark on Tall Blacks culture, they have added to it – and that doesn’t happen often, for a group to come in and slightly change that mold.”
Henare had a word for those not at the tournament but likely to return for the crucial FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, starting in November. “The veterans that are not here can be extremely proud of this group, but they also have a responsibility now to follow on from this and add to what this group has done in the future.”
Delany and Te Rangi were huge for the Tall Blacks, Delany all the more so given he had been struck down by a gastro illness. But this was a tournament and tour built on the effort of all players and support staff, as a new generation of players was exposed to Tall Blacks basketball, and added their own special chapter to that storied history in the black singlet. Tall Blacks 71 - Delany 22 and 7, Te Rangi 18 and 8 Korea 80