The Tall Blacks are venturing into unknown territory as they embark on their first Asia Cup campaign in Lebanon.

Paul Henare's side kick off their tournament against Kazakhstan tomorrow night, with the majority of the squad about to experience their first major international tournament.

The Tall Blacks have prioritised World Cup and Olympic qualification by giving their international veterans a rest at the Asia Cup, selecting a squad without any players older than 26.

As a result, any hopes of winning the tournament would be optimistic, but a competitive run is still in play.


The young squad have had a difficult build-up, picking up just one win from six games against Angola, a young Lithuanian side, and two Chinese teams.

Henare believes the build-up - six games in seven days - will have put the side in good stead.

"It's been a tough couple of tournaments against very good basketball teams, but I do think the boys will be a lot better, and are as prepared as we can be for the Asia Cup," he told Radio Sport.

The Tall Blacks' main issue in their build-up has been scoring, averaging just 61.3 points per game. Their three pointers have not been dropping - just 27.5 per cent, while there are few options to score in isolation, with only point guard Shea Ili averaging more than 10 points per game.

Ili looms as the vital piece for the Tall Blacks, backing up from his superb season with the Wellington Saints in the NBL. The squad's biggest attacking threat off the dribble, Ili has also developed his three point shot to become one of New Zealand's elite guards.

He should expect to have a hefty workload, and his distribution skills and pestering defence will be important if the Tall Blacks are to taste success.

"We are trying to give Shea that confidence. Last year he was our third option at point guard at the Olympic qualifying tournament. It is a shift in mentality; he is our number one option and one of our better decision makers and can play at a high level. He can still give us intensity on defence as well as play in both ways," said Henare.

The Tall Blacks are joined by Kazakhstan, South Korea and hosts Lebanon in their pool, with three teams advancing to the knockout round. Winning the group will be crucial, as the first place qualifier automatically progresses to the quarter-finals, with a favourable draw, before a potential semifinal clash with Australia.

Finish in second or third, and a preliminary playoff game awaits, likely against Japan or Hong Kong. Win that, and China or Iran would be potential quarter-final opponents.

Lebanon should be their toughest opponent in pool play, with the hosts installed by the bookmakers as the second most likely side to win the tournament. The Tall Blacks have some familiarity with South Korea, having played them in a five-game series in 2014, while Kazakhstan loom as the weakest side in the group, but they still possess the quality of surprise for the Tall Blacks coaching staff.

"There's not a whole lot of games on the internet - we've had our struggles trying to get game film," notes Henare.

"It's going to be reasonably limited, but our friend [former Tall Blacks coach] Nenad Vucinic has been doing some background work for us - he's going to help us out with some of these teams."

The Tall Blacks' opener against Kazakhstan tips off at 10.30pm tomorrow night.