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A week into their camp in Japan and a day out from their first official game of the World Cup buildup, the MBO Tall Blacks are pleased with their work so far on the eve of the first of two games in three days against fellow World Cup side Japan.
The team has been based in Atsugi, 45 minutes inland from Tokyo, and has spent the week in intensive twice a day practice sessions and video reviews, and while there is a huge amount still to take on board, Head Coach Paul Henare is pleased with the progress to this point.
“It has been a busy week and the boys are on a fast learning curve as we all look to be on the same page on September 1. After getting into a rhythm around the very short and demanding qualifying windows, this feels a little like turning back the clock with a five or six week campaign where we really have time to come together as a team and yet it still feels like we are racing the clock to be where we want to be.
“We are constantly looking to find that balance between wanting to be on the floor and get through as much as we can, with ensuring that the load on the players is not excessive and we get through the next three weeks in great shape leading into the World Cup proper, but the boys are doing a great job and following the lead of our coaching and management team and the planning that has been put in place.”
The team is also finding its identity with the experience gained over the past two years already proving beneficial to a largely young group. At just 32 Tom Abercrombie is not yet ready to take on the tag of veteran, but as he approaches his third World Cup, he is seeing the benefit of the recent programme throughout the roster.
“It has been a learning experience through the whole qualification phase and one of those learnings was having depth in the group. Having multiple guys being part of this group at different times and now coming together to share those experiences is going to put is in a good position.
“Everyone fits in and knows what is expected of them, even our younger guys have been around the national programme for a few years now and have played in some challenging environments. With Rueben and Mika not being here some more of that leadership falls on to guys like myself, but that is nothing new to me and the beauty of this group is we are not short of guys who are willing to speak up and make an impact in their own way.
“We are feeling good, it has been a tough phase we have been through, a lot of hard work has been put in but the boys are feeling good about this prep phase and can’t wait now to get into a game and put some of that work into a game situation. To think of a game tomorrow is really exciting, I am pumped to play in front of a full house in Japan, it will be an amazing atmosphere and they are a good team and well prepared. It will be an awesome game, I can’t wait”
Henare says the team has been made more than welcome in Japan, with the Tall Ferns also spending time here prior to their recent William Jones Cup tournament as Basketball New Zealand and Japan Basketball forge a long-term relationship.
“Our hosts have been superb, and the boys love it here in Japan, the Atsugi City Council and Japan Basketball are going out of their way to make sure everything we need is on hand. The welcome we have enjoyed certainly helps us settle in and go about our work.
“On a tour of this length and being away from our whanau at home makes it even more important that the players and staff get out and experience the local culture and cuisine and enjoy the whole experience. Our hosts have been superb and the people have been very friendly.”
The Tall Blacks LIVE broadcast schedule in Japan is as follows:
Japan v Tall Blacks - Monday 12 August, 7.55pm, SKY Sport 8
Japan v Tall Blacks - Wednesday 14 August, 9.50pm, SKY Sport 9