Tall Blacks head coach Paul Henare has today named a list of 22 players to either trial or be considered for selection for the vital Oceania Series against Australia in August, with the winner booking a place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The bulk of those on the list will attend a camp in Auckland in early July before Henare and his coaching team name an initial roster of 14 players to travel to London, Croatia and Slovenia to prepare for the all-important games in Melbourne and Wellington against the Aussie Boomers - a team that is set to be stacked with NBA talent including Cleveland Cavalier Mathew Delavadova and NBA Champion Andrew Bogut from the Golden State Warriors.
"We have a strong core group of players returning from the 2014 World Cup, with Mika, Corey, Tom, Rob, Isaac, Lindsay, Jarrod and Everard all bringing that experience back to our programme in 2016 at a vital time as we chance a place in Rio," said head coach Paul Henare.
"There are also some quality young players coming through and each one will be given the chance to shine and force their way into the team. Perhaps more so than ever before we have good depth in most positions and a genuine rivalry just to get on to the Tall Blacks long list, let alone on to the touring roster."
The list includes Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams, despite Basketball New Zealand having no expectation that Adams will be in Auckland for the initial camp. Adams naming as part of the wider group is however a reflection of the continued positive dialogue with Steven and OKC about a role in the Oceania Series.
"I have enjoyed the communication with Steven and we continue to talk to him and to OKC about his involvement in this series. In doing so we have to understand his commitments to OKC and the NBA, all the more so given he has a new coach to return to. Steven will be given all the time he needs to work through what his schedule looks like over the next few weeks."
The list includes a number of first time players at a Tall Black trial, with Dion Prewster, Ethan Rusbatch, Matt Freeman, Sam Timmins, Shea Ili and Duane Bailey all getting their first taste of Tall Black culture in a three day live in trial that has the players working off court as well as scrimmaging on with Henare and his coaching team watching on.
Freeman and Timmins were in the recent world championship winning U18 3X3 team in Hungary, along with Tai Wynyard who last year became the youngest ever player to suit up for the Tall Blacks.
"This is a huge opportunity for these players and a chance to show us who they are off court as well as on. The Tall Black culture is something this team and all who have played or been involved with in the past is very proud of. We will be looking for their character and personality to come through as well as competing on court over the three days."
The opportunity for this team is to qualify for the Olympic Games via the direct route as champions of Oceania, something that poses a huge challenge but is nonetheless something Henare says is well within their capabilities.
"Australia will be NBA laden and favourites for sure, I can't recall ever playing them when that wasn't the case. We understand that challenge but are ready to take it on and believe we can get the win across the two games and book a spot in Rio. That is our sole focus, we will prepare with that series in mind and be ready to give it our all in August."
Players not available for selection at this time include Tai Webster (Nebraska University) and Kirk Penney (Baloncesto Sevilla) with Webster focusing on his second season at Nebraska while Penney is not available at this stage of the selection process. Alex Pledger is another not to be named due to his ongoing rehab from foot surgery.
Henare and assistant coaches Pero Cameron and Ross McMains will name a roster of 14 players to attend a training camp in Napier, before the touring party leaves for games in London, Croatia, Slovenia and China ahead of the FIBA Oceania Series with games in Melbourne on August 15 and the return game in Wellington on August 18.
Players invited to trial for the Tall Blacks:
Thomas Abercrombie, New Zealand Breakers
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Duane Bailey, Southland Sharks
Everard Bartlett, Ballarat Miners
Finn Delany, Nelson Giants
Isaac Fotu, La Bruixa d'Or Manresa
Leon Henry, Wellington Saints
Shea Ili, Southland Sharks
Jarrod Kenny, Hawke's Bay Hawks
Robert Loe, KAOD
Jordan Ngatai, Manawatu Jets
Dion Prewster, Wellington Saints
Ethan Rusbatch, Canterbury Rams
Lindsay Tait, Wellington Saints
Reuben Te Rangi, New Zealand Breakers
Samuel Timmins, Canterbury Rams
Mika Vukona, New Zealand Breakers
Corey Webster, New Zealand Breakers
Tai Wynyard, New Zealand Breakers
Matthew Freeman, Supercity Rangers
Casey Frank, Supercity Rangers
Izayah Mauriohooho Le'afa, Wellington Saints
Tall Blacks 2015 Schedule
8-10 July - Trial in Auckland
11-18 July - Preparation camp in Napier, New Zealand
19 July - Depart for Europe
25 July - v Great Britain, Copperbox, London
29 July - v Croatia, venue TBC
30 July - v Slovenia, venue TBC
3-8 August - Stankovic Cup, China, Mexico, Venezuela, venue TBC
11-13 August - Training camp in Auckland
15 August - FIBA Oceania Series v Australia, Melbourne, Rod Laver Arena
18 August - FIBA Oceania Series, v Australia, Wellington