Southland Sharks feature prominently in Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare's extended roster of 23 players today, ahead of the upcoming FIBA World Cup Qualifier against South Korea in Wellington, from which 12 players will suit up against the Koreans at TSB Bank Arena on 23 November.
Reuben Te Rangi, Derone Raukawa, James Hunter, Luke Aston and Alex Pledger have all been named, along with Southlander and current Breakers Development Player Mitchell Newton.
The list is notable for the inclusion of European based stars Isaac Fotu, Tai Webster and Israel based Corey Webster, along with a core of experienced SKYCITY Breakers players, none of whom were either available or selected for the recent FIBA Asia Cup ‘Young Bloods’ team.
Henare says the game in Wellington marks the start of a journey towards not only the FIBA World Cup, but the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, and he wants his best players involved and committed from the start of the campaign.
“The Asia Cup was fantastic, a huge success for the players that wore the singlet so proudly and well, but also in helping us build depth and competition within the wider group for the Tall Blacks. That said, I was always committed to then choosing the best group from the available player pool for the World Cup qualifiers, and the Korea game is going to be one of if not the hardest game we will play in our pool.
“I have had good conversations with all of the players and all understand the journey we are on over the next three years leading into Tokyo. Isaac, Tai and Corey have never wavered in their commitment to the black singlet and all indicated their keenness to be a part of this. Importantly with the FIBA windows, they also have the blessing from their clubs and the onus is on us to look after them, and deliver them back to their clubs in good condition.”
Henare will name a roster of 14 for the game in Wellington, with 12 able to suit up for the game. Carrying another two players in the training group will allow Henare some flexibility in the team he then names for the game in Hong Kong, to be played just three days later on 26 November.
“We will assess the group immediately after the Korea game and make a call on who we travel to Hong Kong. They are a different proposition and while we won’t take any team lightly, there be an opportunity to change a couple of players and continue to build that depth and competition for spots on the roster.
“I said at the time in Beirut that the group did themselves and the Tall Blacks proud and added another layer to our history and culture. In doing so, many put their hands up for continued selection and showed they are more than capable on the international stage. Selecting a final 12 for any of the games in these upcoming windows is not going to be easy and that is great for us as coaches.”
Players from that Asia Cup roster to be named in the wider group include Shea Ili, Jordan Ngatai, Finn Delany, Luke Aston, Derone Raukawa, Reuben Te Rangi, Ethan Rusbatch, Dyson King-Hawea and James Hunter.
As well as Fotu and the Webster brothers, the roster sees a potential return for seasoned stars like Tom Abercrombie, Mika Vukona, Rob Loe, Alex Pledger (all SKYCITY Breakers) and Jarrod Kenney (Perth) after all were rested from the Asia Cup.
Henare says fans will be excited for what will be a special occasion.
“Not only does this signal our new pathway to FIBA World Cups and Olympic Games competitions through Asia, but we are literally the first qualifier to be played anywhere in the world in the new FIBA windows, so the eyes of the world will be on us.
“But for our home fans, this will be world-class basketball, playing for an ultimate prize of a place at the FIBA World Cup. For many of our players this is the first time, outside of the games played once every four years against Australia, that they can play in such a meaningful game at home. That includes players with long and decorated careers like Mika Vukona – he now has the chance to represent his country in front of what we hope is a blacked-out stadium of home fans making plenty of noise.”
Henare says the door remains very much open for players in the United States college system, and indeed for Steve Adams playing in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“The US based players do not get dispensation for FIBA windows during their US seasons, so we have had to overlook those players during that time. But there are other opportunities to bring them in and for them to push their case for inclusion in future windows and tournaments outside of that US season.
“We have an increasingly deep player pool to choose from, we just have to pick and choose our moments with some as we negotiate the new qualifying format through Asia.”
There is a change in the coaching staff as well, with Michael Fitchett replacing Ross McMains as Assistant Coach for the windows that McMains is unavailable for due to his coaching commitments in the United States. That change will be seamless with the Breakers Assistant Coach Fitchett taking the New Zealand Select team to China earlier this year.
Tall Blacks Wider Roster (14 to be named on Wednesday November 15)
Point guards: • Joe Cook-Green (Eastern Arizona College) • Shea Ili (SKYCITY Breakers/Wellington Saints) • Jarrod Kenny (Perth Wildcats/Bay Hawks) • Derone Raukawa (SKYCITY Breakers/Southland Sharks) • Tai Webster (Fraport Skyliners)
Shooting guards: • Luke Aston (Southland Sharks) • Quinn Clinton (SKYCITY Breakers) • Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury Rams) • Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets/Southland Sharks) • Corey Webster (Ironi Nahariya/Wellington Saints)
Small forwards: • Tom Abercrombie (SKYCITY Breakers) • Dan Fotu (SKYCITY Breakers) • Dyson King-Hawea (Nunawading Spectres) • Jordan Ngatai (SKYCITY Breakers/Wellington Saints)
Power forwards: • Finn Delany (SKYCITY Breakers, Nelson Giants) • Isaac Fotu (Ratiopharm Ulm) • Tohi Milner-Smith (Melbourne United) • Mitchell Newton (SKYCITY Breakers) • Mika Vukona (SKYCITY Breakers)
Centres: • James Hunter (SKYCITY Breakers/Southland Sharks) • Michael Karena (Forca Lleida) • Rob Loe (SKYCITY Breakers) • Alex Pledger (SKYCITY Breakers/Southland Sharks)
FIBA World Cup Qualifying, Group A (Top 3 progress to next phase of qualifying and carry points through) • 23 November v Korea, TSB Bank Arena Wellington • 26 November v Hong Kong, away • 23 February v China, away • 26 February v South Korea, away • 28 June v Hong Kong, NZ venue TBA • 1 July v China, NZ venue TBA