The Tall Blacks squad for their Olympic qualifying campaign is expected to be named later this week, and there will have been plenty of difficult selections made.
While the core of the side who took on Australia last year will remain intact, a bunch of players have had superb National Basketball League campaigns, making for a hotly contested race for a number of positions.
Here are the players who will fall under national team consideration.
Tai Webster (Nebraska)
- Back in the country last week, Webster's availability will be critical for the Tall Blacks' ball-handling depth, after
. If available, Webster would claim the starting point guard role after a much-improved third season at Nebraska.
Shea Ili (Wellington Saints) - One of the most improved players in the NBL, Ili has gone from shooting 8/44 on threes last season to shooting them with confidence (and at 33%) this season. A strong defender and an excellent athlete, Ili has been done well running the show with the Saints, and deserves a spot in the squad.
Jarrod Kenny (Nelson Giants) - Not at his best in the NBL, with suspected broken ribs ailing his usual top-class skillset. A great defender when healthy, Kenny had a strong ANBL title-winning season with Perth and will be on the plane.
Corey Webster (Supercity Rangers) - The key man to how far the Tall Blacks progress, Webster has shown moments (32 points v Great Britain, 22 v Australia) of being a top-tier international talent. A clash against the class of France will be the time to show it.
Everard Bartlett (Southland Sharks)
- A national team veteran, Bartlett' shooting percentages are down in the NBL. His scoring abilities could work in his favour, but he has plenty of well-rounded competition for a bench berth.
Dion Prewster (Wellington Saints) - He may be coming off the bench for the Saints, but Prewster's per minute stats are as strong as ever. Shooting at absolutely ridiculous 58/44/90 splits, his time spent with the Sydney Kings has evolved Prewster's game to an all-around threat. Should be in the squad.
Reuben Te Rangi (Supercity Rangers) - Hasn't been able to perform at the ANBL level, but has put in strong performances in the black singlet in the past. A reduced role on the stacked Rangers team may not aid his cause - averaging seven points and two rebounds a game in his last seven outings. Will argue for historical performance over recent form.
Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury Rams)
- Started the season strongly, put hasn't cracked 20 points in his last 10 games after the arrival of star import McKenzie Moore. An ANBL gig may arrive on the agenda before national team selection.
Tom Abercrombie (New Zealand Breakers)
A lock for the squad, the big question will be how many minutes he spends at power forward - potentially making for excellent small-ball lineups against the right opposition.
last year shows his abilities, while he is a crucial spacing threat and competent international defender.
Marcel Jones (Canterbury Rams)
- Jones qualifies under the naturalised player rule, and has been remarkably consistent under Rams coach Mark Dickel. Averaging 23.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Jones is shooting 51.5% from the field, 39.4% from deep and is improved defensively. Deserves a look in, especially if Henare plumps for a high-variance approach with his selections.
Leon Henry (Wellington Saints) Looking for an ANBL team after the Townsville Crocodiles dropped out; Henry has been his usual solid self for Wellington. Edged by Dion Prewster and Duane Bailey in the most recent Tall Blacks squad, Henry is likely to be right in the mix as one of the final decisions again this campaign.
Finn Delany (Nelson Giants) - The breakout star of the NBL season, Delany has signed with the New Zealand Breakers on a two year contract. An ankle injury has briefly halted his fantastic season with Nelson, but the Tall Blacks are a logical next step for the kid who has all the tools of the trade to succeed.
Duane Bailey (Southland Sharks) - Recently returned from a stint in England, the Tall Blacks coaches know what they are getting from Bailey, meaning his mixed NBL form is probably a secondary factor in their decision-making.
Jordan Ngatai (Taranaki Mountain Airs) - An outsider, but performing admirably as one of the main offensive options for the Airs. Like Rusbatch, a full-time ANBL opportunity may come calling first.
Mika Vukona (Supercity Rangers)
- A lock for any Tall Blacks side, the skipper whose game rises to every level will have been one of the first names down on the team sheet.
Isaac Fotu (Zaragoza)
- The most influential big man in New Zealand.
and is set for more of the same in his international career. While he should be the starting power forward, it will be of interest to see how much time he gets at centre in small-ball lineups.
Beny Anthony (Wellington Saints) - A former Tall Black, Anthony is unlikely to be selected over the likes of Henry or Delany, but showed he is still a name to keep tabs on, scoring 26 points in front of an onlooking Henare as his Saints side beat Vukona's Rangers this weekend.
Rob Loe (Limburg United) - Likely to sign down under in the ANBL, Loe is a handy player to have in the big man rotation. His shooting makes him a potent weapon against lineups with a paint-bound centre, so his minutes will likely fluctuate depending on his opposition.
Alex Pledger (Southland Sharks) - Pledger stated in April that he was undecided on joining the Tall Blacks, but with a healthy NBL season under his belt he could be in good shape to contribute. His presence would help with size and rebounding, and he would be able to rotate minutes with Loe (and potentially Fotu) depending on matchup.
Sam Timmins/Jack Salt (Washington/Virginia) - Two promising college big men who may come into contention as needed size if Pledger joins Steven Adams and Tai Wynyard in being unavailable.
So, who will make it?
Prior Tall Blacks squads indicate that the initial pre-tournament team will be 14 strong for overseas tours, before two players are cut before the Olympic qualifiers.
It is highly likely that there will be three point guards taken, while Corey Webster, Abercrombie, Vukona, Fotu, Pledger and Loe are all likely to be selected.
Prewster is arguably also deserving of selection, but after that, the selections are incredibly close to make, with Henry, Bailey, Jones, Te Rangi, Delany and Bartlett all making strong cases for inclusion - cases which will ultimately come down to the balance the Tall Blacks coaching staff want in their squad.
Possible Tall Blacks 14 man squad: Tai Webster, Jarrod Kenny, Shea Ili, Corey Webster, Dion Prewster, Everard Bartlett, Reuben Te Rangi, Tom Abercrombie, Leon Henry, Finn Delany, Mika Vukona, Isaac Fotu, Alex Pledger, Rob Loe