A chance to see the Junior Tall Blacks in action adds extra lustre to the 2014 Under-23 National Championships that tip off at 9am today at the ASB Arena.
Last year at the same venue, Kiwi basketball sensation Steven Adams captured the imagination courtside at the under-23 championships. This time the focus will be on court at the tournament regarded by basketball coaches and selectors as a key barometer of the young talent in New Zealand.
The Junior Tall Blacks are a guest side added to the 12 men's teams in action but will not contest the finals, while the seven women's teams, including Tauranga City, are all in one pool.
The action runs from today until finals day Saturday, with the women's grand final at 4pm and the men's grand final 5.45pm.
Mark Rogers, Tauranga City Basketball general manager, says the Junior Tall Blacks (under-19) are using the tournament as preparation for their international programme.
"They will be younger than the other men's teams playing but what they are after is tough competition," he said. "They are playing but don't have the opportunity to win the tournament."
Many of Tauranga's top male basketballers are spread through the teams competing, which dilutes the pool of players available to pick a Tauranga team from. Sam Smith is playing for Canterbury Metro, Alex Schipper is fronting for Waikato, Ashton McQueen for Rotorua, and Derone Raukawa and Theo Smith for Counties Manukau.
Tauranga City is represented in the women's division, with a team Rogers says is very young, with most players under 19.
"It is part of our plan to develop the women's side of the game and bring those players through, so they are getting plenty of experience against tough competition," he said. "We are not expecting them to be near the top of the table but it is a great opportunity for them."
Rogers says the men's division will be highly competitive, as always.
"[Defending champions] North Harbour will be very strong again. They have a lot of junior New Zealand players that are coming though, like Alonzo Burton who has played national league for Hawke's Bay and Manawatu, and point guard Matt Lacey is very strong.
"Rotorua, with Jeff Green coaching, you never know what is going to front. They have some talent there and Ashton McQueen is playing for them. Counties Manukau have just about a national league team of bench players playing for them, Otago should be strong, so it will be an interesting competition with decent talent spread around all the teams."
2013 Under-23 National Championships results:
Men: 1 North Harbour, 2 Counties Manukau, 3 Waitakere West.
Women: 1 North Harbour, 2 Waikato, 3 Canterbury.
1 North Harbour, Rotorua, Palmerston North
2 Counties Manukau, Te Tai Tokerau, Otago
3 Auckland, Canterbury Metro, Hutt Valley
4 Porirua, Waikato, Canterbury Country, Junior Tall Blacks
Tauranga City, Rotorua, Counties Manukau, Porirua, Canterbury Metro, Waikato, North Harbour
Wednesday pool play, 9am to 7.30pm
Thursday pool play and quarter-finals, 9am to 7.30pm
Friday pool play and semifinals, 9am to 4pm
Saturday pool play, 9am, semifinals, 10.45am,women's grand final, 4pm, men's grand final, 5.45pm