The MBO Tall Blacks have settled into the searing heat of the Middle East as they embark on a five-day preparation camp in Qatar, before travelling to Beirut to play Syria in a FIBA World Cup Qualifier and then return to New Zealand in double quick time to host Lebanon in Rotorua on September 17.
With the arrival tonight local time of Tai Webster from his Turkish club, the playing roster of 12 is complete, with Isaac Fotu having arrived late yesterday from Germany, via a training camp in Italy.
Head Coach Paul Henare says the travel and adjustments to the 41-degree temperatures and high humidity has taken a toll on the group, but that they are using that to prepare for the demanding schedule ahead of them.
“We have addressed how everyone is right now and that this is how they will be feeling when we get back to New Zealand to play in Rotorua on the 17th. Now is the time to understand that and find ways to push through that pain barrier. Maybe it will be shorter stints when it comes time to play that game, but we have a certain way of playing and regardless of how you are feeling, you are expected to do that job.”
Henare says the team has already learned how to reach peak performance quickly in the relatively new qualifying programme now the team is in Asia, with shorter windows to play back to back games – often with considerable travel thrown in the mix.
“It is always good getting back together but we had heavy legs on the floor today and had our struggles as a group to get through some quality time on the practice floor but with our limited time and preparation we have to make the most of every minute and just truck on. Now with Tai arriving and the full group being together I am sure with another night’s rest they will be that much fresher when they hit the floor tomorrow.”
Henare introduced some changes to the way the Tall Blacks are going about their work in recent FIBA windows, changes that saw the team take down China and Korea on the road, before wins over Hong Kong and China in New Zealand in June/July. Those changes are still being worked on with the group ahead of the next two games in the final pool of World Cup qualifying.
“We have had to go back to basics, refresh and tighten up what we are doing. Tai wasn’t part of the last window, so he is starting from scratch, but we send video clips out to the guys for them to study and watch but it will take some time. This is something new that we have introduced and the only way we will get better is with time on the floor.”
Henare says the adjustment to local conditions has been a bit of a shock, coming from the back end of the New Zealand winter, into temperatures in the 40’s with high humidity to complicate things further.
“It is bloody hot! It is more humid than I was expecting, I was expecting a dry heat. A couple of the guys have walked out of the hotel and the sunglasses have instantly fogged up! You appreciate the different climate here, it is good to stay inside for sure. It is quite the change from the New Zealand winter and spring.”
The team will play Qatar in two closed door practice games before flying to Beirut on the 11th to play Syria on the 13th. The team then embarks on something of a mad-cap journey back to New Zealand, with the management and medical team using all the tricks they know to have the team emerge from the back of the plane(s) and buses in great shape to take on Lebanon in Rotorua on the 17th.
Henare is never one for getting too far ahead but acknowledges the enormity of the task facing the team and is hopeful of another full-house in Rotorua to support the team against one of Asia’s best basketball nations, with Lebanon having finished runner up in the 2017 Asia Cup.
“We have outlined to the playing group the journey we have in front of us over the next week or so, including the challenge that international travel brings. It won’t phase this group and while we would love to have more resource at our disposal, the truth is the Tall Blacks are used to having their backs against the wall and overcoming any obstacles that might be in our way.
“This is a group of young men passionate about playing for their country, they understand the history of the black singlet and the sacrifice that others before them have made to build the reputation we have around the world today. They also know the role they have in continuing that proud history and tradition and I know they will accept those challenges and return home ready to walk out to a huge reception at the Energy Events Centre on the 17th.
“We are totally focused on Syria on the 13th, but we are prepared for the days that follow and eagerly await that homecoming and the support of a big crowd in Rotorua against one of the best teams in Asia.”
Along with China and Korea, New Zealand has crossed over into Group E, carrying points from their earlier group with them (5 wins, 1 loss), and will play home and away games against Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Group F contains Australia, Iran, Philippines, Japan, Kazakhstan and Qatar.
The top three teams in each of the two final groups will qualify for China 2019, along with the best fourth placed team from the two final groups. Complicating the process is that China, as hosts of the World Cup, do not count in the final placings, but will continue to play out their remaining matches.
CLICK HERE for group standings and link to all remaining games
MBO Tall Blacks World Cup Qualifying
v Syria, September 13, Beirut, 5pm tip off local time
v Lebanon, September 17, Rotorua, 7pm tip off, tickets at www.ticketmaster.co.nz
Guards: Shea Ili, SKYCITY Breakers; Jarrod Kenny, Cairns Taipans; Ethan Rusbatch, Bay Hawks; Tai Webster, Galatasaray (Turkey);
Forwards: Reuben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets; Dion Prewster, Bay Hawks; Jordan Ngatai, SKYCITY Breakers; Isaac Fotu, Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany); Finn Delany, SKYCITY Breakers; Mika Vukona, Brisbane Bullets;
Centres: Rob Loe, Cairns Taipans; Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United
Head Coach: Paul Henare
Assistant Coaches: Pero Cameron, Mike Fitchett
Physiotherapist: Anousith Bouaaphone
Massage Therapist: Shelley Moana Hiha
Manager: Andrew Dewhurst
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND TWO
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
• AWAY: 13 Sep 2018 vs Syria, Nouhad Nawfal Stadium, Zouk Mikael, Lebanon
• HOME: 17 Sep 2018 vs Lebanon, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tip off 7pm
• HOME: 29 Nov 2018 vs Jordan, Horncastle Arena, Christchurch
• HOME: 2 Dec 2018 vs Syria, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
• AWAY: 22 Feb 2019 vs Lebanon in Lebanon
• AWAY: 25 Feb 2019 vs Jordan in Jordan
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND ONE
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
• 23 Nov 2017 vs Korea at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington. Result: Tall Blacks lost 80-86
• 26 Nov 2017 vs Hong Kong at Southourn Stadium, Hong Kong. Result: Tall Blacks won 133-74
• 23 Feb 2018 vs China at Dongguan Basketball Centre, China. Result: Tall Blacks won 82-73
• 26 Feb 2018 vs Korea at Jamsil Gymnasium, Seoul, South Korea. Result: Tall Blacks won 93-84
• 28 Jun 2018 vs Hong Kong at Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Result: Tall Blacks won 124-65
• 1 Jul 2018 vs China vs Spark Arena, Auckland. Result: Tall Blacks won 67-57