The Tall Blacks have quickly adjusted back to life in the Gold Coast Village as they put the blinkers on in preparation for Saturday’s Commonwealth Games semifinal against Canada.
The team trained back on the Gold Coast for the first time yesterday and again today, following pool play in Cairns and have settled back in quickly as a result of an initial 48 hour visit to the Gold Coast prior to travelling up to Cairns.
Head Coach Paul Henare says it is time to hit the reset button and move on to a higher level, as he recalls his own silver medal winning experience from 2006.
“We have spoken about what we have achieved so far and the work that has gone into getting us to this point. But more importantly, our focus is on the semifinal on Saturday, that is the only game that matters now, nothing before and nothing beyond is occupying our minds.
“We have to be better than we were in Cairns and improve on the good performances we saw against Australia and Nigeria, anything less than our best and we open the door for the Canadians.
“I know from experience that you only get one shot at this, one chance at that gold medal and right now we have to do all we can in preparation, on and off court, to get a win against Canada. As a team and as individuals we have spoken about that, making sure that at the end of this campaign, we can all look back and say there was nothing more I could have done to be ready.”
Breakers and Tall Blacks point guard Shea Ili has been one of the leading lights in the tournament so far, with 22 points and 4 assists in the defeat by Australia, while also bringing his trademark strong defence to the floor.
The 25-year-old is relishing the chance to gain more international experience and lead the team on the floor against Canada on Saturday (2.30pm NZT).
“It has been a good week, to get more games under my belt and the level here is high, just getting that experience of leading the team on the floor is great, it will be good to get them on Saturday.
“When we travel we are the Tall Blacks, just basketball, but out here is a lot bigger, we are part of Team New Zealand. It is great to see the other athletes go to work and to support them and have them support us as well, it is a great experience.”
Ili knows there is more improvement yet in his team and that the Tall Blacks can control the outcome of the game.
“It is on us really, we have to practice what we preach, the focus is certainly on us. We will get the dub by focusing on our plays and the scout that the coaches have given us, working as a team. The first game (against Canada) we were a bit sloppy, we have to eliminate the silly turnovers and look after the ball.
“We are looking to push the ball, get up and in and work their guards over. But we have to look after the ball for the full forty and cope with the pressure they put on us and put it back on them and hopefully get some easy looks in transition.”
Ili responds without hesitation when asked if he is ready for the semifinal and the pressure such a game can bring.
“I am always ready to pull on the black jersey and play for my country.”
The Semifinal is Saturday April 14, tip off 2:30pm NZT, check TVNZ guides for coverage details.