The next generation is getting their shot to mix it with the current crop at the MBO Tall Blacks trial in Lower Hutt this week, as the team begins preparations for the upcoming FIBA World Cup window.
MBO Tall Blacks Head Coach Paul Henare has invited 20 players to spend four days in camp in Lower Hutt this week and included in the group are five wide-eyed teenagers. All are looking forward to the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Jarrod Kenney and Isaac Fotu and to work under the watchful guidance of Henare and his assistant coaches Ross McMains, Michael Fitchett and FIBA Hall of Famer Pero Cameron.
Kruz Perrott-Hunt is the youngest at 17 and the Rosmini College guard admits he is pinching himself at the surprise call up to the camp but is ready to mix it with the more experienced players around him.
“This was a massive surprise for me. I am just taking it all in, looking forward to the experience and the chance to learn from the veterans on the team but trying to match them at the same time. I am not just here to participate, I need to get into the drills and scrimmages and work as hard as I can while I am here, I am not taking it lightly.”
Max Darling is also 17 but is already on the radar of many of the countries basketball pundits, as he makes the most of his chances working under Mark Dickel at the Canterbury Rams in the Sal’s NBL.
“It is such an early stage of my career and this is such an opportunity for me to learn so much, especially with the level of talent in the team at this camp, I will be doing all I can to learn every day, on and off court. This has been on my mind ever since I started playing reps at junior level, that one day I might make the Tall Blacks, this is my first taste of that and a chance I can’t wait to experience.”
Tyrell Harrison was arguably the biggest surprise of them all, the 18-year-old is on the books of the Brisbane Bullets as a development player and also plays for the South West Metro Pirates in local competition. Eligible for Australia, Harrison has however expressed a keen desire to play for the country of his father, one he identifies strongly with.
“The call up was huge and a big surprise but this is really important for me to be here, I have grown up playing rugby with my dad and he is proudly Kiwi. The mana that I bring to the field in rugby and in my basketball is something I am always aware of, I am keen to see first hand what that is like in the Tall Blacks environment, I am just excited to be here.”
Isaac Letoa is the relative ‘veteran’ of this group, at least in experience, having been called up to the Tall Blacks 2017 FIBA Asia Cup. The 19-year-old point guard has since enjoyed his first year on scholarship at Ivy League Dartmouth University in the States and can’t wait to renew his association with the black singlet.
“It is always a privilege to be called up and be a part of the squad, it is a great chance to step up and see what improvements I have made while I have been away this past year. It is always good to be back, to work with the coaches and the players and measure myself against them.”
Tobias Cameron is a former Junior Tall Black and like Letoa, the 19-year-old has returned after his first year in the States, at Abilene Christian University.
“This is a really good opportunity to step up and have a shot at a trial to make the Tall Blacks. But to finally play against guys I have watched for so long, like Mika and Tom, I have known them for a while, so it will be cool to get on court with and against them, I am looking forward to that chance to perform.”
Adding to the next generation group of players this week is Jackson Stent (20 years old), Jack Salt (22 years old), both returning from their American College teams during the summer break to trial for the Tall Blacks.
The youngsters won’t have to wait long to mix it on court with the rest of the roster, with the entire group of 20 assembling in Wellington today (Sunday) in readiness for two workouts a day for the next three days ahead of Henare naming his team for the upcoming FIBA World Cup Qualifiers against Hong Kong (June 28 Rotorua) and China (July 1 Auckland).