The Junior Tall Blacks roster of ten players has been named to travel to Fiji to take on the Oceania Championships, with the ultimate goal to defeat Australia and qualify for the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece next year.
Head Coach Judd Flavell is excited about the talent at his disposal but agonized over his final decision as to which two players would not travel next week.
“It is never easy making cuts, especially this late in the piece when there is very little separating the last two and they have been here for a while now and are part of our family, that is always tough.
“I have had a lot to do with Luuk over recent years here at the Breakers Academy and Logan Elers has come in late in the piece but really pushed his case. I am proud of what they have done and they should be proud as well, they could well have been part of the ten but we have had to make our selections and they are the two that miss out on this occasion.”
The fact that former Breakers Development Player Witteveen has missed out suggests real competition and depth in the guard line.
“We have some exciting guards, Izayah has been involved in senior basketball and has had a taste of the Tall Blacks, for a player so young he has a lot of experience already, especially playing in the Bartercard NBL. And in Jayden Bezzant I think he could be a little bit of a sleeper in this group, most people may not know much about him but I think we are in for an exciting couple of years as he emerges too. And we have some good back-ups in the roster as well with Dane and Beauden both from the Mountain Airs programme in Taranaki again have good Bartercard NBL experience.”
Flavell is already working with the group on a strong focus on their own standards and not being distracted by a possible wide range in abilities on display in Fiji.
“We have talked a lot about processes, when we line up against some of these teams we don’t know what to expect but we do know ourselves, our values and how we want to play. We will have to be quick learners but we want to hold ourselves accountable, work hard and stay together as a brotherhood.”
The goal must be to first make the final and an expected match up with the Aussies and while nothing is being taken for granted, Flavell is aware of the quality that the green and gold will possess in Fiji. And with just one spot from Oceania on the line at the FIBA U19 World Champs in Greece next year, it is understandable the coach has looked across the Tasman to see what is happening in the Aussie camp.
“We know the Aussies have a group that is made up of half the team coming off the U17 silver medal at the 2014 World Championships. They have a team that has been in their environment all year and has a deal of experience. They have a big boy in the middle Isaac Humphries who has some big colleges chasing him but they will be at their best playing their hard-nosed pressure defence and getting after you. But they are not on our minds too much, we have to take this one game at a time and focus on doing everything right each day and not getting ahead of ourselves.”
The team departs for Fiji this weekend after rounding out their preparation in Auckland, training at the Breakers Atlas Place headquarters. They were presented with their playing singlets by Tall Blacks captain Mika Vukona and Tall Blacks swingman Tom Abercrombie, with both speaking of the pride the young players should feel at being selected for their country.
Junior Tall Black Roster for Oceania Championships Jayden Bezzant, 18 years old, Waikato, (guard); Dane Brooks, 18, New Plymouth, (guard); Sam Colenutt, 18, Auckland, (guard); Joseph Cook-Green, 17, Otago, (guard); Matthew Freeman, 16, North Harbour, (forward); Beauden Giddy, 18, New Plymouth, (guard); Brandon Gleaves, 18, Canterbury, (forward); Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa, 17, Hutt Valley, (guard); Samuel Timmins, 17, Otago, (centre); Tai Wynyard, 16, Waitakere West Auckland (forward/centre)
Reserves: Logan Elers, 17, Rotorua, (forward); Luuk Witteveen, 18, North Harbour, (Guard);
Oceania Junior Championships
Men Pool A Australia, Guam, Tahiti, Samoa, Solomon Islands Pool B New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, American Samoa,