Basketball: Tall Blacks squad named ahead of Rio qualifiers

Mika Vukona of the Tall Blacks passes against Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Mika Vukona of the Tall Blacks passes against Australia. Photo / Getty Images

Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare named a 14 strong roster to travel to Asia to prepare for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament in the Philippines in July, with a final roster of 12 to travel then to Europe for further preparation before the FIBA Olympic Qualifier in Manila from July 5.

In naming the team Henare highlighted the importance of a core group of players who have considerable international experience, with Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Corey Webster, Isaac Fotu and Rob Loe being the heart and soul of a team that so often wins games based on those very qualities.

"Our core group of players brings something very special to the team and to our culture, in many ways they are the culture and set the standards for others to follow and have done for many years now.

"In these modern days of professional sport, playing for the Tall Blacks is a bit of a throwback, in many ways it is 'old school' in how and why sport used to be played.

Playing for the Tall Blacks is an honour and privilege - and a hard earned one at that. It is about pride in your country, pride in the jersey and a determination to do everything you can alongside your mates to uphold the tradition of those who have worn the singlet before you, often against the odds.

"Mika, Tom, Corey, Ike and Rob and others before have contributed so much to the rich and storied history of this special team. These players will be the backbone of our efforts to qualify for Rio. But despite the many sacrifices they have all made, if you ask any of them today I am betting none of them will regret a single moment, such is the mana of being a Tall Black and how it enriches all involved."

The naming of this team also represents something of a changing of the guard, with a new generation of players emerging alongside that vastly experienced talent. Henare says this exciting group of young men are deserving of their chance to lead the team forward in pursuit of the team's primary goal - qualifying for the Rio Olympic Games.

"Our number one goal is to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games. I have every belief that we can overcome the odds and achieve that goal. And yes, we will be underdogs, but how many times are we ever the favourites going into a big contest? The Tall Blacks have shown through the years that we don't mind playing the part of David, often in the past we have thrived on it, and we aim to bring down a Goliath or two in July."

The guard line features Jarrod Kenny, who impressed so much against the Australians in the Oceania Championships that he went on to secure a contract with Perth in the Australian League, along with the exciting combo-guard Tai Webster, who returns after missing the 2015 campaign and 23-year-old Shea Ili, who earns his selection on the back of an impressive season with the SKYCITY Breakers. Young Canterbury Rams guard Ethan Rusbatch is rewarded for his strong season with a place in the touring party for the first time after appearing at the trials last season.

Sharpshooters Corey Webster and Everard Bartlett will be charged with heating up from outside, with Webster also a chance to be given some time in the point guard role. Both are experienced now at international level and will not be fazed coming up against higher ranked opponents in Manila.

Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie and Isaac Fotu lead the forward line, with Jordan Ngatai, debutant Finn Delany and the recalled BJ Anthony also in the mix. Fotu's versatility at international level will see him a vital member of the touring party, with an ability to play in the 4 or 5 spot for Henare, with Rob Loe and 22 year old Canterbury big man Michael Karena the two centre's named in the touring party.

Tall Blacks: Tom Abercrombie, BJ Anthony, Everard Bartlett, Finn Delany, Isaac Fotu, Shea Ili, Jarrod Kenny, Rob Loe, Jordan Ngatai, Mika Vukona, Corey Webster, Tai Webster, Ethan Rusbatch, Michael Karena.

- NZ Herald

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