The Tall Blacks have announced that they will be focusing largely on youth at the Asia Cup in August, with several key players set to be unavailable.
Niall Anderson runs through all the key questions about what that means for their chances, the Tall Blacks' future, and who might be selected for the tour.
Q: So, which big names are missing out for the Tall Blacks?
A: Basically all of them. The Webster brothers - Tai and Corey - will have just finished their campaigns at NBA Summer League, and will be chasing that dream. Rob Loe is getting married, Mika Vukona is rehabbing, and Paul Henare has told Isaac Fotu to rest up. Alex Pledger hasn't pulled on the black singlet in a while due to various reasons, and while there's nothing official yet, the smart money is on Tom Abercrombie sitting this one out as well.
Q: Cripes. Well, what about Steven Adams?
A: He's out, as well. While he has no NBA commitments around that time, Henare correctly notes there's little point in him playing alongside a development squad.
"It just didn't make sense for him to play in this one. I'd really like for him to be a part of the team when we play in June and July next year in New Zealand. He's definitely keen to play," Henare told Radio Sport.
Q: Okay then. That's, like, our eight best players unavailable! Do we have any good players available?
A: Of course! This should be a prime opportunity for Shea Ili to get a chance to run the point, coming off his superb season with the Wellington Saints. The promising Finn Delany will probably start at power forward, and at age 21 might be the second best player on the team.
Q: I thought we were going to be a chance of winning this tournament? Why the developmental approach?
A: Well, the result of the Asia Cup is largely immaterial. While it will change from next year, the Asia Cup currently has no bearing on qualification for the World Cup or the Olympics. With the Commonwealth Games also upcoming next year, it is going to be a busy schedule for New Zealand's best players - thus the resting - while it is also important to create depth for the jam-packed slate.
As Henare puts it: "The results that matter are in November and February, not in August, in terms of repercussions for our pathway to the World Cup."
Q: So, we're going to see the youth brigade, huh? Will any old timers be on this tour?
A: It's unlikely, though it depends on their thought process. Do you bring along a 31-year-old Jarrod Kenny or a 28-year-old Beny Anthony to make the team more competitive, or do you just turn the competition over to young players and bring in players from the Junior Tall Blacks, such as Quinn Clinton and Callum McRae? It could be the difference of a few spots on the overall ladder, but with the Tall Blacks having a history of blooding young players, there could be a spot or two on the roster for the next generation.
Q: Aren't there more deserving players for those spots, though?
A: Not if the Tall Blacks are focusing on youth, especially with college players unlikely to be unavailable. All of New Zealand's most promising big men play in college - Tai Wynyard, Sam Timmins, Matt Freeman, Sam Waardenburg, Yanni Wetzell and Jack Salt for starters. If any of them can play (Wetzell, who is redshirting at Vanderbilt this year, is the best hope), that provides more depth and a chance for development. Without, things get dicey.
There will be plenty of depth on the wings, where players like Reuben Te Rangi, Ethan Rusbatch, Dion Prewster are all capable contributors deserving of the black singlet. You can also play Jordan Ngatai at power forward, backing up Finn Delany to create some power forward options.
If Henare wants a bit more experience to mix in with the youth, the likes of Kenny, Anthony, Houston O'Riley, Everard Bartlett, Leon Henry, Duane Bailey and Brook Ruscoe could all be in the mix to create a competitive squad.
If he decides to plump for youth, then the likes of Clinton, McRae, Alonzo Burton and Mike Karena all become options.
Here are two potential squads depending on the approach, and assuming no college players are made available.
The Slightly More Experienced Squad: Shea Ili, Jarrod Kenny, Derone Raukawa, Reuben Te Rangi, Everard Bartlett, Ethan Rusbatch, Dion Prewster, Leon Henry, Jordan Ngatai, Finn Delany, Beny Anthony, James Hunter
The Development Squad: Shea Ili, Derone Raukawa, Quinn Clinton, Reuben Te Rangi, Ethan Rusbatch, Alonzo Burton, Dion Prewster, Jordan Ngatai, Finn Delany, James Hunter, Mike Karena, Callum McRae
Q: I think you just named every New Zealand basketballer under the sun. Will playing these guys benefit the Tall Blacks in the long run?
A: You'd have to think so. Exposing these fringe Tall Blacks to international basketball will either improve their games, or give a greater insight into which players have what it takes to make future squads. Creating that depth will then be handy for the inevitable unavailabilities which crop up at big tournaments down the track.
Q: Well, this was exhaustive but I'm glad we've got this out of the way. So, who do we play at the Asia Cup?
A: The Tall Blacks are in a pool with Kazakhstan (56th in the world), hosts Lebanon (43rd) and South Korea (30th). If they top the group, they advanced to the quarterfinals, while if they finish second or third, they advance to the quarterfinal qualifiers. They will definitely make the knockout stage, but from there, their chances will depend on what selection approach they take - the team will be announced early next month.