The Tall Blacks will be without their longtime Captain for their upcoming World Cup campaign, with confirmation today that Mika Vukona will not be suiting up in China. Vukona has suffered a left knee injury in the Sal’s NBL ruling the Brisbane Bullet forward out of the upcoming tournament.
With the wider roster assembling in Auckland later this week for a four-day selection camp before 14 players and staff fly out to Japan to begin their World Cup preparations, it is not the news that Head Coach Paul Henare wanted to hear.
“We have known for a couple of weeks that Mika was unlikely to get clearance to play, but we all know Mika and wanted to give him as much time as we could to understand full implications of the injury.
“Even knowing we were essentially left with no choice; it was one of the hardest calls I have had to make in my time coaching this team. Few if any others give what Mika has given to this national team over so many years, he is the heartbeat of our group and a leader on and off the court.”
It is with that leadership and ability to influence those around him that sees Henare and his support staff exploring ways in which to keep Vukona involved in the campaign.
“Mika’s role extends to beyond his influence on court, he can and will still play a vital role in the build up in working with the playing group, in particular the younger guys on the team. We will bring him into the Auckland camp and currently we are exploring options on when and where he can join us during the buildup, without compromising his rehab ahead of the NBL season with the Bullets,” said Henare.
It is a blow for a man who is fiercely proud of the black singlet, but in typical fashion, Vukona is playing down the situation with his teammates already top of mind.
“I guess I am still working through the news and while I am obviously disappointed, this is not about me, as always with the Tall Blacks it is about those that are selected to pull on the black singlet and I know the boys will do us proud. My job now is to help wherever and whenever I can in the buildup.
“This entire World Cup campaign has been all the more special given our qualifying pathway through Asia and the time that we have spent together during the windows,” said Vukona. “The places we have gone, the situations we have faced and the games we have won have strengthened us as a team and as brothers.
“I know they will represent the singlet, their families and the country with great pride and determination. As Tall Blacks we are used to overcoming adversity, winning against the odds and performing at the highest level in a truly global sport. I have no doubt that this group will continue that long and proud tradition.”
The Tall Blacks haka Tū Kaha talks of their strength in numbers, their ability to stand strong against all that oppose them – like the Kahikatea tree, alone it is vulnerable and weak, but as many it is strong. This has always been the strength of the Tall Blacks on and off court, a strength that will be further tested as they look to step up in Vukona’s absence over the coming weeks.
The wider Tall Blacks group will assemble at a selection camp in Auckland this Thursday. The team departs on their buildup tour (starting in Japan) on Monday 5 August, with the 14 players to tour named on Sunday.
• FIBA World Cup official website: http://www.fiba.basketball/basketballworldcup/2019
• Tall Blacks’ longlist: http://nz.basketball/news/tall-blacks-long-list-for-world-cup-revealed
• More Tall Blacks news: http://nz.basketball/news/category/tall-blacks
• Tall Blacks schedule: http://www.nz.basketball/National-Teams/Tall-Blacks/Schedule
• Read more about Tū Kaha: http://www.nz.basketball/Tall-Blacks-News/the-meaning-of-tu-kaha-the-tall-blacks-culture
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