The Tall Blacks have arrived in Cairns, with phase one of their 2018 Commonwealth Games preparation complete after spending 48 hours in the Gold Coast Games village.
Basketball is the only sport being played outside of the Gold Coast, with pool games being played in Cairns (and Townsville), before the competition moves back to the ‘GC’ for semifinals and medal matches.
Rather than head straight to North Queensland however, the Tall Blacks opted to stop off at the village first. Head Coach Paul Henare explained the logic behind the move.
“While we don’t have much time together in the lead up to our first game, we weighed up the importance of having some familiarity with the Gold Coast village against settling straight into preparation in Cairns and I have no doubt we have made the right decision,” said Henare.
“This past 48 hours has been great and will help us when we return, all things going well, for a semifinal and a shot at the medals. Our message to our players is that this is an experience to be enjoyed, we are here to win gold for sure, but this is something special, being amongst other New Zealand athletes and teams and seeing what it means to everyone to be here.
“By spending a full day in the village and training on the Gold Coast, all the ‘firsts’ have been ticked off. First time in the dining hall amongst all the other nations, first time in the accommodation, first time travelling to the training venue on the Gold Coast, first time going through all the security checks and so on. When we return later in the tournament, we will be that much more prepared and ready to go.”
Mika Vukona is the only player on the current roster to have previous games experience, winning silver alongside his coaches Henare and Pero Cameron in 2006. The veteran forward is relishing the environment, and another shot at gold.
“This is special, I am loving being a part of it and sharing the experience not only with this group of players, but with all the other athletes, officials and teams here proudly wearing the silver fern.
“The NZOC campaign ‘Earn the Fern’ sums it up, you can see it in the faces and hear it in the conversations, everyone has worked so hard to be here, made so many sacrifices to chase their dreams. That collective energy is amazing, and no one does it like the Kiwis.”
The team is now settling into four days of solid training ahead of their first pool game against Nigeria on the 6th, with games to follow against Australia (7th) and Canada (9th), with the top two teams earning automatic semifinal places, with the bottom two in the pool playing quarterfinals against the top two teams from the other pool.
The format is a different one for the team, with the top four ranked teams playing each other in the seeded pool, but Henare welcomes the challenge.
“We need to hit the ground running with the aim of being in that top two and booking a semifinal without the need for a qualifying game. The recent FIBA windows have us well prepared for that though, with a short preparation and back to back games.
“The scout is vital and a great challenge for us as a coaching group and for the players to take on with a short turnaround against teams that we don’t know a great deal about in Nigeria and Canada and the known quantity that is Australia.
“We will be ready though, this is a great group of players and staff, with good recent international experience. We know what is in front of us, we know how tough it will be and we can’t wait.”
The only player yet to experience what it is to be at the Games is Tohi Smith-Milner, he will join the team on Monday night, buoyed by his part in a championship winning season with Melbourne United in the NBL.
The Tall Ferns have also arrived in Cairns ahead of their opening game against Malaysia on Thursday evening.
They too headed to the Gold Coast for the initial part of their build up and were in fact one of the first group of athletes to enter the Commonwealth Games village arriving in time for the official opening of the village on Sunday 25 March.
The team benefitted from five days training and acclimatisation on the Gold Coast before heading to North Queensland. The team contains nine of the players that attended the 2017 Asia Cup in Bangalore last July but new Tall Ferns Head Coach Guy Molloy welcomed the opportunity to have an extended period of time to work with his charges.
“The mission is to develop the New Zealand team into one of the top teams in the FIBA Asia qualification zone and we want to make a fast start at the Commonwealth Games also. I want to get off to a great start and we want to hit that tournament full steam.” Molloy had said before heading to the Gold Coast.
Like their male counterparts, the Tall Ferns also have one player who appeared at the previous Commonwealth Games Basketball tournament. Micaela Cocks, a three-time WNBL championship winner with Townsville Fire, also won a silver medal in 2006.
Molloy is excited about the talent at his disposal and is looking forward to building the team and the culture for the Commonwealth Games and beyond.
SCHEDULE: Check guides for coverage of the 2018 Games, broadcast by Television New Zealand
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
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