Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare has kept a strong internal focus on his team as they prepare for their opening pool game at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games against Nigeria on Friday night.
The Nigerians have been a tough scout, with not a great deal known about a number of their players. What is clear just from seeing the team in and around the regional village in Cairns is that they will be a physically imposing side, with plenty of power in the paint.
Henare and his coaching team have done what work they can, but have stayed very much internally focused in the buildup.
“It has been a tough scout, they have gone into the depths of their talent pool with a few unknown guys here, but for us it is about focusing on ourselves and making sure we are at our best. With the short preparation time we have to be at our best knowing that they will be athletic, physical and talented. We have to ensure we have done enough in our preparation to get past them.”
While some in the media are suggesting it is down to Australia and New Zealand to grab the gold medal here, Henare is not buying into that at all. Australia (10), Canada (23) and Nigeria (32) are all ranked ahead of the Tall Blacks (38) coming into the tournament, emphasizing the enormity of the task facing the New Zealanders.
“For us it is definitely an old cliché, we will stay focused on Nigeria right now and nothing else. But we know every team will be tough in this pool, that is the way it should be in the seeded pool. For us we will treat every game on its merits and take it step by step.”
And New Zealand will be without any of the considerable talent plying their trade in the States or Europe, with Tai and Corey Webster and Isaac Fotu the biggest names missing from the recent FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
“We will do things a little by committee, we have lost some talent and natural scoring ability in the guys that aren’t here. But we stay focused on who is here, and we will be a team that gets after it defensively and creates pressure and points as a result. We have to crash the boards really well and be creative as to how we keep that scoreboard ticking over, but the identity of the group is good.”
With game one now just over 24 hours away, the practice sessions have become shorter but no less intense as the team puts the finishing touches on preparation.
“We have had a decent body of work over the last week, so the last 48 hours is focused on fine tuning and getting the boys right physically and mentally. That excitement is starting to build, we got over the initial excitement of being in the Games and the village, now we are looking forward to tip-off, the boys are getting ready.
“Most of the guys came in off respective seasons ending earlier than they wanted, so we have had a little time and a bit of a shock to the system to get the wheels turning again, but we appear to have gotten over that and beyond a couple of niggling injuries and are good to go.”
SCHEDULE: Check guides for coverage of the 2018 Games, broadcast by Television New Zealand
Tall Blacks Pool Games (tip-off times all NZT)
• Vs Nigeria, 6 April, 10:00pm
• Vs Australia, 7 April, 11:00pm
• Vs Canada, 9 April, 8:30pm
Tall Ferns Pool Games (tip-off times all NZT)
• Vs Malaysia, 5 April, 11.00pm
• Vs Jamaica, 7 April, 1.30pm
• Vs India, 8 April 7.30pm