As the Tall Blacks prepare for tonight’s FIBA World Cup Qualifier game versus Jordan, they know this could be their toughest test this year – but with the prize of a ticket to the 2023 FIBA World Cup as their reward.
With five games left to play in the Second Round of the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, a win against Jordan tonight – combined with a Philippines win over Saudi Arabia – locks New Zealand into one of the six World Cup spots, which are open to the 12 teams in the Asia and Oceania Conferences.
The World Cup – alongside the 2024 Paris Olympics – are the two pinnacle basketball events that the Tall Blacks have set their sights on in this cycle, with Coach Pero Cameron having developed a young generation of ballers to complement his core group of Tall Blacks veterans.
That balance is evident in the squad named for tonight’s game, with experience aplenty in the form of Isaac Fotu, Reuben Te Rangi, Rob Loe, Sam Timmins, Shea Ili, Tohi Smith-Milner, Jordan Ngatai, Ethan Rusbatch and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa. Complementing these vets are youngsters Ben Gold, Flynn Cameron, Nikau McCullough, and Taki Fahrensohn, who have all seen action in the black singlets in WCQ games this year.
Overall, this looks on paper to be the most experienced Tall Blacks side that Coach Cameron has rolled out this year, and he says it’s been great to put together such a strong squad to face Jordan.
“It’s great to see some faces in this game who haven’t been able to be part of it [this year], because of their availability and so on. So I’m really happy to have players like Isaac [Fotu] put his hand up, and to see what he’s bought to the team – not just his play on the court but his leadership,” says Cameron.
“Le’afa hasn’t played for New Zealand since 2013, he came in as a 16 year old and now returns to the squad a decade on – which is awesome and it’s great to have him. Reuben [Te Rangi] and Shea [Ili], all these guys are great team players and played together in the 2019 World Cup so they bring experience, great energy and good vibes.”
“And then youngsters like Ben [Gold, who scored 13 points against Saudi Arabia], we’ve always seen him as a tremendous talent with his length, athleticism and ability to shoot. So it’s good to see him growing as a Tall Black and the contributions he’s made – he’s got a great journey ahead of him.”
Jordan come into this game with a 5-2 record in World Cup qualifier play, having won their last two games against India and Indonesia to sit second in Group C pool behind Lebanon.
Many players in their squad will be familiar to those who watched the Tall Blacks face Jordan in the Asia Cup last month, including 38 year old veteran Zaid Abbas – who had 15 points and 9 rebounds against New Zealand in the bronze medal game – and Freddy Ibrahim, who torched the Kiwis with 12 points and 8 assists.
But the biggest difference maker for Jordan could be the addition of 34 year old guard Dar Tucker, who was the team’s leading scorer in the FIBA Asia Cup (20ppg) but missed the game against New Zealand due to injury. He will be their go-to scorer in this one and could prove a handful for the Kiwis to contain.
The Tall Backs and Jordan have gone had-to-head twice in the past in the World Cup Asian Qualifiers, with mixed results; Jordan winning the last encounter, a 86-80 victory in their arena. Prior to that, New Zealand had a 95-69 win at home against Jordan back in 2018. Most recently – and memorably – a younger Tall Blacks squad faced Jordan in the FIBA Asia Cup, with the Kiwis registering a thrilling 83-75 win off the back of a 25-point performance from Smith-Milner to capture the bronze medal.
The Tall Blacks take on Jordan at 7pm tonight at Auckland’s Eventfinda Stadium, in a FIBA World Cup Qualifier game. Tickets are available at: https://tinyurl.com/yncnf83n
Tall Blacks squad
Ben Gold, Marquette University
Ethan Rusbatch, Hawkes Bay Hawks
Flynn Cameron, Riverside California
Isaac Fotu, Utsunomiya Brex
Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa, NZ Breakers
Jordan Ngatai, Wellington Saints
Nikau McCullough, Otago Nuggets
Reuben Te Rangi, South East Melbourne Phoenix
Rob Loe, NZ Breakers / Auckland Tuatara
Sam Timmins, NZ Breakers / Otago Nuggets
Shea Ili, Melbourne United / Sandringham Sabres
Taki Fahrensohn, Auckland Tuatara
Tohi Smith-Milner, South East Melbourne Phoenix / Sandringham Sabres
Head Coach – Pero Cameron
Assistant Coach – Ross McMains
Assistant Coach – Zico Coronel
Assistant Coach – Michael Fitchett
Amin ABU HAWWAS
Caden Chudri Zuheir ALNAJDAWI
Head Coach: Wesam Al-Sous