The Tall Blacks are under no illusions as to the task facing them in their opening FIBA World Cup Qualifier against South Korea at Wellington’s TSB Stadium on Thursday night.
Even without the recent clashes at the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, both won by Korea, the Tall Blacks Head Coach knows that the South Koreans pose a huge threat at the start of the qualifying programme.
“The Koreans are a very impressive team, we saw that first hand in Beirut at the Asia Cup. Offensively they are very mobile with shooters throughout the team that can light it up at any time. Defensively we will have to be ready for an onslaught and be tireless in our approach, if we switch off at any time, they can hurt you.”
Korea won the pool clash between the two teams at the Asia Cup, with a potential game winner from Shea Ili rolling off the rim, while in the bronze medal match up, the Tall Blacks again competed strongly despite being without an injured Ili and having three other players struggling with illness, eventually going down 80-71 with the game in balance into the final minute.
Ili remembers the tournament with mixed emotions, being named in the All Star Five, but enduring the pain of having to watch the bronze medal match courtside with a badly split webbing on his left hand.
“That hurt, not the injury so much, but the fact I couldn’t help the boys try and win the Bronze Medal. In a way this is a chance to put that disappointment to rest. To help the team get a win on Thursday night in a World Cup Qualifier would be huge. I am ready to do whatever is asked of me and give it everything again in the black singlet.”
Ili is playing in front of his ‘home’ fans, with the SKYCITY Breaker also a Wellington Saint during the New Zealand NBL, so he knows how passionate and knowledgeable the capital city crowd can be.
“We can’t wait to get out on court and play in such a big game at home, I know talking to some of the older guys that this is something they just haven’t experienced very often in their careers. With us being in the FIBA Asia Zone and the new home and away qualifying schedule these sorts of games are going to be fun, and I know the Wellington hoops community will come out big time to support the game and help us get over the line.”
Ili’s predictions seem to be spot on with more than 75% of the tickets already allocated and organisers predicting the remainder to be snapped up this week.
Henare is yet to name his final roster for the game, choosing to do that at a media conference the day before the game. Until then he will contemplate the merits of some seasoned veterans and the youthful side that played so well at the Asia Cup.
“We won’t make a final call until Wednesday. As a coaching staff we have options in almost all areas and great competition from some of the younger players, some of which took their chances big time at the Asia Cup.”
The game is the first in FIBA World Cup Qualifying pool play, with the Tall Blacks also playing Hong Kong and China home and away in FIBA windows in November, February, June and July, with the top three teams then progressing to the next phase of Qualifying. A place at the 2019 World Cup in China on the line.
Tall Blacks v Korea, 23 November, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington: Tickets (from $19) on sale at www.ticketmaster.co.nz