Tall Blacks name 12 to tour Europe and head to Olympic qualifiers

By Basketball New Zealand

It has happened before and it will happen again, but it does not make the job of cutting players any easier for Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare as he confirmed the two players who will not travel on to Europe for final preparations for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament today.

Henare today confirmed that Finn Delany and Ethan Rusbatch will be heading home from China, a call that was made during an emotional team meeting today.

"You can roll out all the clichs right now, this is the toughest thing to do as a coach, to leave players out or in this instance, cut them from a group that they have contributed hugely to and become very much a part of in the week that we have been together.

"While it does not make it any easier for them right now, as a coaching group we know that both Finn and Ethan have futures in the black singlet and we have been impressed by their attitude, work ethic, willingness to learn but most of all their contribution to the group this past week. They are both fine young men and quality basketballers with big futures ahead of them.

"When we came into camp in Auckland just over a week ago I said that nothing was guaranteed, we had all 14 players booked to fly to Latvia not knowing which two we would have to leave out.

The entire playing group made this a very tough decision on the back of a great week of training, an unbeaten run in China so far and a further strengthening of our Tall Black culture. Both Finn and Ethan will continue to work hard in the event that they might yet be called up for Manila, something that came to play last year when Duane Bailey was struck down with an illness and Dion Prewster stepped in."

Both Delany and Rusbatch took the news like the fine young men they are, while clearly upset and disappointed at the news, both took the time to speak to the group before embracing each and everyone of the touring party.

The decision means that two other newcomers continue with the side, with Derone Raukawa and Mike Karena earning their spots in the twelve for Europe and the Philippines, Henare says both have impressed.

"It is no secret that a few weeks back neither player might have been on this tour, but with Alex Pledger not being available and the illness to Jarrod Kenny they were given their chance. To say I have been impressed and perhaps even surprised is an understatement. Both have immersed themselves in the culture of this team and most importantly, both have shown they have a genuine contribution to make to the team on the floor and can find ways to make us better."

Raukawa has spent the past 36 hours in isolation in his hotel room with a gastro bug, thankfully one that has not lingered. The 21 year old can hardly believe what has been a whirlwind week.

"It hasnt sunk in yet, I got the call four of five days before we left for Tokyo, not making it and then getting the call up at the last second and now making the final 12 is a big shock but I am happy to be part of it, it is pretty easy to strive to be better in this environment, we get given opportunities just going grabbling them is a big part of it. I am going to call mum and dad right now, mum has been asking all day has he named it, has he named it, she is a bit impatient so she will be pleased to hear the news."

If there was any doubt about Karena (and there wasnt), he made his selection secure with a 9 from 9 shooting display for 18 points in the big win over China last night, he too is loving every minute of life as a Tall Black.

"It is a good feeling, last night boosted my confidence but other than that I was still nervous and I am just happy to make the cut. It is still no time to get big headed, I am still a rookie and learning from people in front of me and just want to go out there and do what I can to contribute and show them I can play. I didnt expect that to happen last night but one thing led to another."

Henare is more than comfortable with the group he has and trusts in the 12 young men to continue their improvement towards the tournament in Manila and to go on and earn their place at the Rio Olympic Games.

"The feel in this group is good, they have worked superbly over the short time we have had together, everyone knows the road we are on and the lofty goal we have set for ourselves, but in true Tall Black style we are working hard and have each others backs as we pursue our Olympic dream. I have no doubt we can achieve it and that these young men will do themselves, their families and the game of basketball in New Zealand proud."

In some good news for the team, captain Mika Vukona has woken this morning with a decent shiner and some bruising to show for his troubles, after being hit in the head by a stray Chinese elbow last night, but otherwise has no serious damage and is likely to be available for tomorrows semifinal against Lithuania, tipping off at 11pm NZT. He will continue to be monitored closely by the medical team.

Tall Blacks Touring Party for Latvia and Philippines: name, club/s, position, height, age

Tom Abercrombie, Pinar Karsiyaka Izmir (Turksih League)/SKYCITY Breakers, Forward, 198cm, 29 years; BJ Anthony, Wellington Saints (NBL), Forward, 198cm, 28 years; Everard Bartlett, Southland Sharks (NBL), Guard, 193cm, 29 years; Isaac Fotu, CAI Zaragoza (Liga ACB), Forward, 203cm, 22 years; Shea Ili, Wellington Saints (NBL)/SKYCITY Breakers (ANBL), Guard, 183cm, 23 years; Michael Karena, Canterbury Rams (NBL)/Wright State University (NCAA), Centre, 208cm, 22 years; Rob Loe, Limburg United (Belgian League), Centre, 211cm, 24 years; Jordan Ngatai, Taranaki MountainAirs (NBL), Forward, 195cm, 23 years; Derone Raukawa, Southland Sharks (NBL), 181cm, 21 years; Guard; Mika Vukona, Supercity Rangers (NBL)/SKYCITY Breakers (ANBL), Forward, 198cm, 34 years; Corey Webster, Supercity Rangers (NBL)/SKYCITY Breakers, Guard, 188cm, 27 years; Tai Webster, Nebraska Cornhuskers (NCAA), Guard, 193cm, 20 years.

- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand

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