Basketball: Frank edges battle of Americans

By Kris Shannon

Casey Frank in action for the Tall Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
Casey Frank in action for the Tall Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

It may sound strange in a Tall Blacks squad featuring four players yet to debut, but veteran forward Casey Frank was sweating for his spot over the last week.

Nenad Vucinic yesterday named a 12-man roster to compete for an Olympic place at the last-chance qualifying tournament in Venezuela next month, and the coach faced few difficult decisions.

The injury-enforced absence of the Tall Blacks' two best players in Kirk Penney and Tom Abercrombie was exacerbated by several other withdrawals and left Vucinic with 13 players for 12 spots.

The one place on the roster that required resolution was that of the team's only naturalised player - with Frank, who debuted for the side in 2005, going head-to-head with fellow Americans Marcel Jones and Kevin Braswell.

Jones secured his citizenship only last week and Braswell's was still tied up in red tape, leaving Frank to assume the position he's made his own since his arrival in the country.

"A lot of guys were after my job," Frank said. "There's a lot of pride that comes with putting on this jersey and I think those other guys that have come to New Zealand would like to contribute, too.

"But it all comes down to the best guy for the spot and I wouldn't expect it any other way."

Frank admitted he felt under threat from the new arrivals but, instead of letting it impact his game, he used the uncertainty to fuel his fire during last week's trials.

"My mindset is definitely, 'I'm not going to make it, I have to work harder'. I'm not a guy who rests on my laurels. At no point did I ever think I had it.

"You realise [missing out] is a possibility but you just have to control the things you can."

Frank's experience played a prominent part in the tussle, with Vucinic feeling the 34-year-old would offer an invaluable guiding hand in mentoring the team's green big men.

"Casey has been with us for some time and knows what we need," Vucinic said. "Our young bigs, with Rob [Loe] and Jeremiah [Trueman], haven't really got that much experience. It was really a no-brainer this time.

"We needed some experience to mix with the youth that we've got in the team."

But another element also proved pertinent in Vucinic's decision, with the coach preferring Frank's long-term commitment to the recently-arrived Kiwis.

"Loyalty's always a factor to us. Players are loyal to us but, also, they are loyal in terms of their commitment on the court as well."

Frank appreciated his the fidelity of his mentor but pointed to what he does between the lines as being more important.

"I wouldn't say that I deserve it for my time here," he said. "I've been around the international game with this team for seven years now and I think I provide a lot of vocal leadership. This is sort of a team in flux - we don't have as many veterans as we've had in the last few years."

It is for that reason the Tall Blacks face one of their toughest tests to reach to London Games, but Frank was resolute in his belief in the side.

"I don't think we'd be going if we didn't think we had a chance," he said. "It's going to be a very difficult thing. But that's always been the beauty of the Tall Blacks - the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

"We comes together and we play above ourselves, and that's always been the way. We're just going to have to do it again."

The 2012 Tall Blacks team:

Hayden Allen (Auckland Pirates), Josh Bloxham (Nelson Giants), Everard Bartlett (Bay Hawks), Casey Frank (Wellington Saints), Leon Henry (Otago Nuggets), Jarrod Kenny (Bay Hawks), Robert Loe (St Louis University, US), Alex Pledger (Auckland Pirates), Lindsay Tait (Auckland Pirates), Jeremiah Trueman (Manawatu Jets), Mika Vukona (Nelson Giants), Tai Webster (Auckland Pirates).

- APNZ

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