Basketball: Tall Blacks confident ahead of Oceania Cup

By Daniel Richardson

The Tall Blacks beat the Boomers in 2009 to take the Ramsay Shield. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Tall Blacks beat the Boomers in 2009 to take the Ramsay Shield. Photo / Dean Purcell

No longer outsiders in trans-Tasman basketball encounters, the Tall Blacks departed New Zealand today to meet Australia in this week's Oceania Cup full of confidence.

The Kiwis, ranked 18th in the world, recently won the Stankovic Cup in China and beat the Boomers in 2009 to take the Ramsay Shield.

This week will be a different situation and the Tall Blacks meet the Australians in a best-of-three series, with the winner qualifying for next year's London Olympics.

Tall Blacks coach Nenad Vucinic said the team's build-up had been thorough following their trip to China and tour through Europe, where they played Turkey, Macedonia and Montenegro.

"We have been competitive with [Australia] for a number of years now and they are a very good team, but we trust that we have got a very good team," he said.

"They've got some extremely talented individuals. High-level players on a world stage. But we are a very good team. Maybe we don't have some big names around the world but this team is making a mark on the world stage as well.

"We never lack self-belief, but we know it's going to take a big effort. Whether one, we do it on the night and the night after, I guess is there to see."

Wrapping the series up in the first two games would be a remarkable achievement, considering the Boomers can call on the likes of Portland Trail Blazers point guard Patty Mills, who recently signed with the Melbourne Tigers following the NBA lockout, which has their next season on hold.

Vucinic said they didn't want to focus on individuals and a sell-out crowd of more than 3500 will see Mills play in game one on Wednesday on his new home court in Melbourne.

"He's a good player, but it's not about shutting down Patty Mills," Vucinic said. "It's about shutting down Australia and maybe at times he will get on a run but as long as you keep his scoring intact that's the main thing for us."

Australia are without Milwaukee Bucks centre Andrew Bogut, but despite the absence of the No 1 pick from the 2005 NBA draft, the Boomers still have European-based centres Andrew Ogilvy and Aleks Maric in their squad.

The Tall Blacks called in 20-year-old big man Rob Loe from the St Louis Billikens in the United States, where he has been playing college hoops for the past year.

New Zealand Breakers forward Leon Henry said the national squad had the ability to pull off a series win.

"The team environment's great. The last couple of weeks we've had to follow in the footsteps of past Tall Blacks team, so we've come together really well and I guess we have to just wait and see now," he said.

"From what we believe, they do respect us and that was seen from the last Oceania series that it is going to be a battle."

Playing as a team will be vital for the Tall Blacks and everyone in a black singlet will need to do their part, while some shooting magic from former NBA player Kirk Penney wouldn't go amiss.

The Tall Ferns play the Australian Opals this week in the same format as the men, with Olympic qualification also on the line and the women's games will be played as curtain-raisers.

Considering the Opals are ranked second in the world it will be an uphill task for the Tall Ferns, who feature dual internationals Daneka Wipiiti (netball) and Suzie Bates (cricket).

Schedule: (Times are NZ):

Sept 7, Melbourne:
Opals v Tall Ferns 7.15pm; Boomers v Tall Blacks 9.30pm

Sept 9, Brisbane:
Opals v Tall Ferns 7.15pm; Boomers v Tall Blacks 9.30pm

Sept 11, Sydney:
Boomers v Tall Blacks 6pm*; Opals v Tall Ferns 8.15pm* * subject to change

Tall Blacks: Tom Abercrombie (Waikato), Benny Anthony (Waikato), Mark Dickel (Southland), Michael Fitchett (Nelson), Rob Loe (Saint Louis Billikens), Casey Frank (Wellington), Leon Henry (Wellington), Kirk Penney (Fuenlabrada Spain), Alex Pledger (Waikato), Lindsay Tait (Wellington), Mika Vukona (Nelson), Corey Webster (Wellington)

Tall Ferns: Kate McMeeken-Ruscoe (Logan Thunder, Beenleigh, Queensland), Lisa Wallbutton (Albury Wodonga, Victoria), Natalie Taylor (Ballarat Rush, Victoria), Antonia Edmondson (Bendigo Braves, Victoria), Micaela Cocks (Sandringham Sabres, Victoria), Rebecca Drew (University of Hawaii), Jillian Harmon (Pool Comense, Italy), Jordan Hunter (Crowder College Lady Riders, Missouri), Jelena Vucinic (Louisiana Tech, Louisisana), Angela Marino (Adelaide Lightning), Suzie Bates (Otago), Daneka Wipiiti (Otago)

- APNZ

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