By Grant Chapman
Reuben Te Rangi's road to redemption is now complete, with his elevation to the role of Tall Blacks captain, albeit a national side clawing for any shred of international experience they can find.
Head coach Paul Henare has opted to use his team's first foray into the FIBA Asia Zone - next month's Asia Cup in Beirut - as a development opportunity for fringe candidates, a step towards managing the workload of senior players and building much-needed depth at this level.
But even with so little genuine experience to call on - the 12-man roster feature five debutants and average age is just 23 - Henare's choice of Te Rangi, 22, as skipper is a significant one, given the young 1.98m forward's rocky past.
In 2014, while playing for the Southland Sharks in the NBL, he, guard Shea Ili and forward Leon Henry were charged with serious assault, after a brawl in a New Plymouth night club.
Te Rangi pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 160 hours of community service and six months' supervision, and also ordered to pay $1000 reparation to the victim.
While the NZ Breakers initially supported their player through this crisis, they eventually cut ties with him before the last Australian NBL season, and he re-united with former Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis and general manager Richard Clarke at the Brisbane Bullets.
At various times over those past three years, you would have enjoyed very long odds on Te Rangi ever leading his country, but that day has indeed arrived.
"It's a big honour," he agrees. "It's one of those things I didn't see coming so soon, but it's going to be a good experience and hopefully I'll learn a lot from it."
Te Rangi, a former Junior Tall Blacks captain, debuted for the senior team as a teenager in 2013 and hopes to pass the lessons he's learned from his elders to his current team-mates.
He has tried to take the positives out of his mishaps along the way and believes that has helped prepare him for the challenge ahead.
"We all go through our ups and downs, ebbs and flows," offers Te Rangi. "Not everything is going to go our way, but I guess it's not about your fall ... it's how you come back from that fall.
"I think the hard work I've put in over the last couple of years, especially the last year, has got me to this stage and put me back in the Tall Blacks hunt."
Te Rangi's exit from the Breakers probably had more to do with his waning form and the return of Tall Blacks legend Kick Penney to the Auckland-based club. The speed with which he was snapped up by Brisbane speaks to his character and obvious potential as a player.
"I think the biggest lesson I've learnt is not settling," he reflects. "For a stage there, I settled a little bit and thought I was good where I was, but you've got to keep striving for your best.
"When you move away from home and have to live on your own in a different country, you have to grow up pretty fast and I think that's been good for me.
"For me, being at home, it was easy to fall into the trap of being comfortable and being alright with what I had, but moving away challenged me and showed me I'm capable of more."
Henare has been perfectly placed to monitor Te Rangi's progress through his trials and tribulations. At the time of the assault, he was Sharks coach and he was also in charge of the Breakers when they chose not to re-sign Te Rangi.
The former Tall Blacks point guard has also named Ili in his latest leadership team, along with forward Finn Delany.
"The last couple of years for both those guys [Te Rangi and Ili] have been a great learning experience," says Henare.
"I think, as human beings, we grow, we evolve from our experiences and they're no different.
"They've learned from all experiences, and come out the other side better men and better basketball players as well."
The Tall Blacks team leave tomorrow for build-up in China and then open their Asia Cup schedule on August 8 against Kazakhstan.
The squad is:
Luke Aston (Southland Sharks)
Finn Delany (Nelson Giants/NZ Breakers)
James Hunter (Southland Sharks/NZ Breakers)
Shea Ili (Wellington Saints/NZ Breakers)
Dyson King-Hawea (Nunawading Spectres)
Isaac Letoa (Wellington Saints)
Jordan Ngatai (Wellington Saints)
Derone Raukawa (Southland Sharks)
Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury Rams)
Tohi Smith-Milner (Melbourne United)
Reuben Te Rangi (Southland Sharks/Brisbane Bullets)
Sam Timmins (University of Washington)