The Junior Tall Blacks have played the first tournament in a three-tournament series in China.

The Atlas Invitational Series is being played in the provinces of Shaanxi, Guizhou and Fujian, with teams from China, the United States and Lithuania.

The first game was against a United States Select Team made up of professional-level players with an average age of 26. It was a David and Goliath styled encounter, yet the Junior Tall Blacks (JTBs) are a well-drilled young side that impressively pushed the Americans to their limit. The JTBs started superbly, managing to win the first quarter 20-17. Although frazzled early, the US team managed to rally in the second quarter, outscoring the Kiwis 28-16. From there they held their lead, eventually overcoming the JTBs 81 to 69.

Head Coach Daryl Cartwright said the physical dominance of the US side showed on the stats sheet with the JTBs 2 point Field Goals totaling 28%.

"We struggled to finish inside against the stronger opposition, where the referees were allowing a lot of contact around the basket."

The JTBs second game was against a China Under 17 team, which Coach Cartwright said was unexpected because a China Under 19 team was originally scheduled to play.

"After being dominated physically by the US, we refocused for the Chinese. We had set a goal of winning the rebound count by 10 plus for the game, which we dominated 67-22. We converted the extra possessions at a field goal percentage of 62% and five players scored in double figures, with Taane [Samuel] finishing with 24points and Tai [Wynyard] 19 points and 14 rebounds. One of the areas to improve on is our turnovers, which were above where they should be against the opposition we faced."

Third game was against a strong Under 23 Lithuania side. The JTBs were exceptional in the final three quarters and unlucky to have fallen short of the win. Cartwright said this was a game where the JTBs came out flat against a typical eastern European team.

"They picked us apart with their excellent ball movement out of the pick and roll situation, and shooting from deep." (28-14 in the first quarter).

"We responded to the challenge to match Lithuanias intensity, we lifted our effort and rolled up our sleeves to match their physical play. We eventually went down 65-61.

"Positives to take out of the match, after our slow start, were that we won each quarter after the first and restricted them to 37 points for the rest of the match after scoring 28 in the first period. One of the areas we want to win is the effort categories and again we won the rebound count 51-39, including 20 offensive rebounds. It was a gritty performance.

"Tai [Wynyard] again had a double/double of 21 points and 15 rebounds. Isaac [Letoa] had a good performance with 14 points, and Hamish [McDonald] and Tobias [Cameron] made an impact off the bench to lift our defensive intensity.

"There are small victories to take out of the match, even though we lost. With two more matches against this team it will be a good challenge for us and these tight encounters are what we need to prepare us for our opposition in Cairo," said Cartwright.

Leaving the large and passionate crowds of Shangluo in the Shaanxi region, the JTBs will travel to Wuchan in the Guizhou province today, which will be a test with the rigors of touring in China. The very next day, the JTBs will play their second round of matches against the same teams.

Coach Cartwright says the goal for each game is to try and improve as a team from their last performance, with each player looking at what they can do individually to improve their role in the team as they approach the FIBA U19 World Cup in Cairo.

"We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the third tournament in China leading into Cairo," says Cartwright

- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand