Without doubt one of the basketball highlights of 2016 was the success of the Junior Tall Blacks.
Beating Australia 57-51 in the final of the FIBA U18 Oceania Championships in December advanced the JTB’s to the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championships.
The World Championships, to be held in Cairo in early July, will be just the second attended by a New Zealand age group team – the last appearance was the Men’s Under 19’s in Auckland in 2009.
I thought it an opportune time to reflect on 2009 and look at where that group of players, that performed admirably in Auckland under the watch of head coach Kenny McFadden, are now at.
Rob Loe was a standout at the tournament leading the team in points (18.8ppg) and rebounds (7.0rpg). His performances led to a call up to the Tall Blacks later that year and he has been pretty much a regular ever since, holding the starting centre spot at the 2014 World Cup in Spain.
Loe spent four years at the University of St Louis from 2010 followed by a season each in Greece and Belgium before signing on with the SKYCITY Breakers for the current ANBL season.
Logan van Beek is the only other member of the 2009 team to have played at a senior World Cup – not in basketball but in cricket. Van Beek has played first class cricket for Canterbury since 2010 and with Dutch lineage has turned out for Holland at the last two T20 World Cups in 2014 and 2016. The talented point guard played a season for the now defunct Auckland Pirates in 2009.
The other point guard in the 2009 team was Josh Bloxham. Bloxham debuted for the Nelson Giants back in 2006 as a 16 year old and played nine seasons with them before heading north – 2015 and 2016 spent with the Supercity Rangers. His three years as a development player with the SKYCITY Breakers coincided with their triple winning NBL championship success. Bloxham made occasional appearances for the Tall Blacks in 2012 and 2014.
Another member of the 2009 squad to go on and represent the Tall Blacks is Dion Prewster. The American born guard captained the 2009 squad averaging 10.4ppg and 6.6rpg. Prewster, currently playing for the Sydney Kings, had one campaign with the senior international team in 2015. He will join the Nelson Giants for the 2017 NBL season after previously playing for the Wellington Saints, Southland Sharks and Hawkes Bay Hawks.
The fourth member of the team to gain senior representative honours is Brook Ruscoe. The Wellington born shooting guard averaged 16.2 points per game at the 2009 champs and has gone on to play for a variety of clubs in the NBL. Recently re-signed with the Super City Rangers for the next two seasons Ruscoe had one campaign with the Tall Blacks in 2015.
Richie Edwards was third on the team scoring list at the 2009 champs averaging 14.8 points as well as 7 rebounds per outing. Edwards attended Arizona State University and then spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Canterbury Rams averaging 17 points per game. He last played professionally in England for the Plymouth Raiders in 2015 but was released after two games.
Like van Beek, Tipene Friday took the professional cricket route following the Auckland World Champs. Following spells with Wellington, Otago and Auckland Friday returned to basketball in 2016 appearing for the Super City Rangers in the last NBL season.
Morgan Natanahira, Sam King and Tom Rowe all moved to Auckland from the South Island ahead of the 2009 champs to train at the Breakers Academy under JTB’s assistant coach Judd Flavell.
King and Natanahira both played a season with the Harbour Heat in 2010. King then returned to Otago and suited for the Nuggets in the following three seasons. The former Otago Boys High standout averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds in his last season with the Nuggets. Working in Wellington King was due to sign with the Wellington Saints for the 2016 NBL season but picked up a serious knee injury that put paid to that opportunity.
Following his season with the Heat Natanahira linked up with coach Paul Henare initially at the Hawks (two seasons) and then at Southland Sharks.
A strong season as a Breakers Academy player in 2011-12 earned the power forward a call up into the Tall Blacks squad.
Unfortunately Natanahira incurred a serious knee injury in the semi-final of the 2012 NBL play-offs and although he attempted comebacks with both the Sharks and the Hawkes he was forced to retire from the game in 2015. He is now a personal trainer in Auckland
Tom Rowe, now a teacher at Balmacewen Intermediate School in his native Dunedin, played two full seasons with the Otago Nuggets in 2010 and 2011. He then turned his attentions to club rugby and a teaching career.
Hutt Valley guard Riki Buckrell spent four seasons playing in the NBL for the Otago Nuggets following the World Champs. He is now in his second year of a teaching contract in Quingdao, China.
Forward David Beck played nine games for the Auckland Pirates in 2011 but faded from the national scene after that. He is currently following his passion for music in London writing and recording under the pseudonym Pax Prima.
Interestingly only Loe, Edwards and Prewster, from the 2009 team, spent a significant amount of time in the US College system. In contrast the majority of the current JTB’s squad have committed to, or will likely embark on, the American experience.
The 2009 head coach was Kenny McFadden and his assistant was Judd Flavell.
McFadden, the founder and head coach of the Wellington based Hoops Club, is best known as the mentor and early coach of NBA star Steven Adams.
Flavell is lead assistant coach at the SKYCITY Breakers and head coach of the Southland Sharks.
Incidentally the 2009 champs gave us the first sightings of NBA bound players such as Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Mathew Dellavedova.