Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare has named an experienced roster of 12 players for the crucial FIBA World Cup qualifying matches against Syria and Lebanon.

The first two games of the final round are against Syria in Beirut on September 13 and Lebanon in Rotorua on September 17.

The team will be led by Brisbane Bullets forward Mika Vukona and includes overseas based players Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster while shooting guard Corey Webster sits out the window due to personal reasons.

Malachi Stickland, 10, left, and Isaiah Strickland, 11, during the Tall Blacks and Hong Kong match in Rotorua in June. Photo / File
Malachi Stickland, 10, left, and Isaiah Strickland, 11, during the Tall Blacks and Hong Kong match in Rotorua in June. Photo / File

Tom Abercrombie was not considered after he injured a hamstring at club training this week.


The Australian NBL provides the bulk of the roster, with eight players spread across four teams, including the SKYCITY Breakers who provide three of the 12 in Shea Ili, Jordan Ngatai and Finn Delany.

Henare loves nothing better than getting "the band back together" and said the excitement was already building ahead of two crucial games.

"This next round will be the biggest challenge we have faced so far, both in terms of the opposition, but also the travel. Getting in and out of the Middle East in the short time we have between games is something new, but in typical Tall Blacks fashion, we are looking forward to taking that on and putting in some strong performances.

"The first and only focus for the team is Syria in Beirut, but the support staff have come up with a plan to have us back and ready to go again Rotorua on the 17th against Lebanon. The reality is we must view the window in totality and do all we can to get the best out of the players across both games.

"If we are to qualify for China and do so with a high seeding, we must at the very least win our home games in front of our home fans.

Tall Blacks forward Reuben Te Rangi throws down a dunk during the warm-up for a game against Hong Kong in Rotorua. Photo / File
Tall Blacks forward Reuben Te Rangi throws down a dunk during the warm-up for a game against Hong Kong in Rotorua. Photo / File

Henare said Rotorua proved a big hit with the team in the last window and they were looking forward to another big crowd and great support on the 17th but first needed to do the job against Syria.

He said they were not buying into talk that the team had already qualified .

"We will not take anything for granted, that is a recipe for disaster. The fact is we are not yet qualified and must continue to pick up wins to keep pace at the top of the group.


"We know how tough these road trips are going to be and the hurdles we will have to overcome, we cannot and will not let our guard down for one moment."

Webster's spot is filled by captain of the recent New Zealand Select Tour to China in Ethan Rusbatch. The Bay Hawks guard led that team superbly and impressed Henare with his work ethic and increasing maturity as a player and leader.

"Ethan deserves another shot at this level. He has played for the Tall Blacks before and is coming off a good Sal's NBL season and was one of the standouts on the recent New Zealand Select Tour. His superb fitness levels and comfort in this group means he will slot in seamlessly," Henare said.

Corey Webster has only just returned to New Zealand after a stint in China and has been given some time to settle back into the country ahead of starting the new season with the Breakers in the Australian competition.

With swingman Abercrombie absent with a hamstring strain and not risked by the coaching staff, the door opens for Dion Prewster to again impress after he did just that in the June/July window.

Prewster has been on honeymoon in Japan and then working out in Wellington since the end of his Sal's NBL campaign with the Bay Hawks.

The Tall Blacks depart for a pre-window camp in Qatar where the local association will host the New Zealanders in a five-day preparation camp before flying to Syria in Beirut – venue for all Syrian "home" games.

That game features as a double-header, with Lebanon playing China at the same venue later that evening.

The team then balances recovery with the reality of a 36-hour trip back to New Zealand in time to play Lebanon in Rotorua on September 17, with tickets for that game already on sale at www.ticketmaster.co.nz

Along with China and Korea, New Zealand have crossed over into Group E, carrying points from their earlier group with them (5 wins, 1 loss), and will play home and away games against Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Group F contains Australia, Iran, Philippines, Japan, Kazakhstan and Qatar.

The top three teams in each of the two final groups will qualify for China 2019, along with the best fourth-placed team from the two final groups.

Complicating the process is that China, as hosts of the World Cup, do not count in the final placings, but will continue to play out their remaining matches.

MBO Tall Blacks v Syria, September 13, Beirut, 5pm tip off local time; v Lebanon, September 17, Rotorua, 7pm tip off, tickets at www.ticketmaster.co.nz


Guards: Shea Ili, SKYCITY Breakers; Jarrod Kenny, Cairns Taipans; Ethan Rusbatch, Bay Hawks; Tai Webster, Galatasaray (Turkey)

Forwards: Reuben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets; Dion Prewster, Bay Hawks; Jordan Ngatai, SKYCITY Breakers; Isaac Fotu, Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany); Finn Delany, SKYCITY Breakers; Mika Vukona, Brisbane Bullets

Centres: Rob Loe, Cairns Taipans; Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United