Basketball: Tall Blacks ready for Philippines opener

Mika Vukona during the game two match between the Tall Blacks and Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Mika Vukona during the game two match between the Tall Blacks and Australia. Photo / Getty Images

The Tall Blacks are all but ready for their vital opening game at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila on Thursday morning against the host nation Philippines in front of a sell out and passionate home crowd.

With the tournament official underway with the technical meeting and opening ceremony on Monday night local time, the New Zealanders had to put pen to paper and confirm their playing twelve and in doing so have dispelled any doubts about Corey Webster's fitness.

Following the injury scare when Webster pulled up lame in Europe last week, the Tall Blacks flew Ethan Rusbatch into Manila on standby, but Webster has made great progress under the watchful eye of Anousith Bouaaphone (physio) and Gavin Cross (trainer) and Henare had now doubts in naming the shooting guard in his official twelve.

"His progression has been outstanding considering our worst fears early on and what we thought might be a serious tear. He was cleared by the scan early on but het progress he has made is really pleasing, he is starting to take a role in practice which is good considering the game is only a couple of days away."

Henare says the next 24 hours will be vital as he and assistants Pero Cameron and Ross McMains put the finishing touches on preparation.

"We still have a lot of preparation to go through in terms of our scouting and what we are trying to achieve as a team, this time we have we need to use very wisely, that is what our training is based around, to try and fit in as much as we can, to fit in as much scouting as we can. It might be just 48 hours away, but there is still plenty of work to get in."

The Tall Blacks boss likes the match up against Philippines, who are of course coached by former Tall Blacks mentor Tab Baldwin.

"I think we match up reasonably well, they are one of the smaller teams - size wise they compare to us pretty well, they might still be a little bit bigger, but guys like Isaac Fotu and Mika Vukona always play bigger than the stat sheet might suggest, it will be a big battle."

With 16,000 in the sold out Mall of Asia Arena and in a basketball crazy city such as Manila, Henare warns that much of the battle might be in the top six inches.

"A lot of it will be mental, there will be distractions in terms of atmosphere, what's on the line and what we have come here to do. But I think the work we have put in over the last 3 or 4 weeks will put us in good stead to be as ready as we possibly can come Wednesday night.

"As soon as we touched down in Manila there was that sense of excitement and anticipation, I can't wait, I kind of wish the game was tomorrow but the coaching side of me says it is a good thing we have another day's preparation, and we get to sit back and watch the French and Philippines battle it out tomorrow, but for me personally, I can't wait."

- NZ Herald

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