The Tall Blacks playing group for the upcoming FIBA international window has been named ahead of the announcement of the new Tall Ferns head coach due in the next fourty-eight hours.
The MBO New Zealand Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare has named a largely predictable squad for the upcoming FIBA World Cup Qualifying games in China and Korea although there are a couple of changes from the group that played Korea and Hong Kong in November.
Not surprisingly Mika Vukona has been spared a couple of long international flights with Dan Fotu and Ethan Rubatch added to the other thirteen that assembled in Wellington last year.
Former Rangitoto College standout Fotu, currently a development player with the Breakers, has been named with an eye on the future and if selected in the final 12, will join his older brother Isaac who will join the team from the German League.
Rusbatch played last year in the Asia Cup and is recalled to the squad, presumably with one eye on the Commonwealth Games in April when it is unlikely that the European based guards – Tai and Corey Webster – will be available.
The squad of 15 will be reduced to 12 following the completion of the NBL regular season at the weekend. Those 12 players will assemble in China on February 20th to begin training for the crucial games against China (February 23rd) and Korea (February 26th) as they continue towards the ultimate goal, a place at the 2019 FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The two road games against the strongest contenders in World Cup Qualifying Group A have assumed greater importance with the Tall Blacks dropping the home tie against Korea in November, before an easy defeat of Hong Kong away from home.
Henare has named 15 players to cover the event of injury or unavailability, with many players involved in club games this weekend, including the SKYCITY Breakers as they face two games in three days, playing the Illawarra Hawks at home on Friday night, before travelling to Sydney to play the Kings on Sunday to round out their regular season in the NBL.
“We have reviewed and gone over November’s window in fine detail, but the bottom line is we didn’t come out firing, we weren’t as ready as we should have been against Korea in Wellington.
“This window has an even tighter schedule, we will get together for the first time as a group in China, have two days on the floor and then go to battle against a very good side, arguably one of the toughest in the world to beat at home.
“We have and will continue to do all we can to learn from November’s experience, to be ready and to play as we expect the Tall Blacks to play, fighting for every possession, punching above our weight and not taking a backward step.”
The team has plenty of experience to all on in the likes of Tom Abercrombie, Corey Webster, and Jarrod Kenny, while Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster will make the trip from Germany where both are putting up good numbers in one of Europe’s best professional leagues.
Also included are Shea Ili, Reuben Te Rangi, Jordan Ngatai, Derone Raukawa and Finn Delany – all playing in the Australian League and all played big minutes at the 2017 Asia Cup in Beirut. Te Rangi will again captain the side.
The team is well served in the size department too, with Breakers centre’s Rob Loe and Alex Pledger leading the front court, along with Tohi Smith-Milner, who has impressed with Melbourne United this season.
Vukona was not cleared by the Breakers medical team as he continues to manage his way through a busy end to the regular season.
“The advice on Mika is that he shouldn’t travel and play in these games and has therefore not been released. He remains an integral part of our group however and plays a huge role what we are trying to achieve in the long term.”
Henare will leave a final decision on the 12 to travel until the last moment, with a final check on fitness before players board planes from various parts of the world after games this weekend.
The bulk of the team will depart from Sydney on Monday 19th, following the completion of NBL games over the weekend.
Tall Blacks Roster to play China and Korea, February 2018
Point guards: Shea Ili (SKYCITY Breakers), Jarrod Kenny (Perth Wildcats), Tai Webster (Fraport Skyliners), Derone Raukawa (SKYCITY Breakers)
Shooting guards: Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets), Corey Webster (Ironi Nahariya), Ethan Rusbatch
Small forwards: Tom Abercrombie (SKYCITY Breakers), Jordan Ngatai (SKYCITY Breakers), Finn Delany (SKYCITY Breakers), Dan Fotu (SKYCITY Breakers)
Power forwards: Isaac Fotu (Ratiopharm Ulm), Tohi Milner-Smith (Melbourne United)
Centres: Rob Loe (SKYCITY Breakers), Alex Pledger (SKYCITY Breakers)
Head Coach: Paul Henare
Assistant Coaches: Pero Cameron, Michael Fitchett
Physiotherapist: Anousith Bouaaphone
Massage Therapist: Shelley Hiha
Manager: Andrew Dewhurst
For more information contact:
MBO Tall Blacks
MBO Tall Blacks – schedule and further information
24 February, 12:30am NZT: China v MBO Tall Blacks. Livestreamed on maoritelevision.com and delayed broadcast on Maori TV at 1pm, 24 Feb.
26 February, 11:30pm NZT: Korea V MBO Tall Blacks. Livestreamed on moaritelevision.com and delayed broadcast 11:30am on 27 Feb.