The Tall Blacks will face their first – and possibly toughest – challenge of the FIBA World Cup 2023 on early Sunday morning NZ time, when they take on World #2 ranked United States at MOA Arena in Manila, Philippines.
This will be the first game of this World Cup for both teams, who sit in Group C alongside Jordan and Greece. Only two teams from this group can advance to the Second Round, decided after all four teams have played their group opponents once each over the First Round.
Coach Pero Cameron has built a tough and balanced Tall Blacks squad for this campaign, one which should threaten their opponents on a nightly basis with both its fast style of play and its shooting ability; a similar setup to their 2019 World Cup campaign when New Zealand led the tournament in points per game.
The Kiwis will rely on a number of players to generate points, starting with playmaker Shea Ili and captain Reuben Te Rangi – the latter making his World Cup debut after missing the 2019 edition due to injury. Isaac Fotu and Finn Delany will also be counted upon for buckets, with the latter leading the team in scoring (13.8ppg) in five of the six New Zealand’s preparation games over the past month.
Arguably the most important player in this game will be veteran Fotu, who shares the unenviable task of facing a mobile United States frontcourt alongside fellow bigs Yanni Wetzell and Tohi Smith-Milner. Meanwhile the trio of Flynn Cameron, Izayah Le’afa and Jordan Ngatai also have the potential to be x-factors against the Americans given their scoring abilities.
Te Rangi says that despite their first game being against one of the tournament’s toughest foes, his squad are keen to meet the challenge head-on.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s a tough gig and going up against the best in the world is an amazing opportunity – but we’ll prepare for [the United States] just like we prepare for any other team,” says Te Rangi.
“We’re going to scout them as much as we can and try and take away some of the things that they do, based on what we’ve seen in their last few games. It’s a big game for sure.”
If the United States last exhibition game – versus Germany on 21 August – is any indicator, the Tall Blacks will need to be at their best to pull out the win against a star-studded American team.
All eyes will be on Anthony Edwards after he scored 34 points against Germany, with guards Austin Reaves and Tyrese Haliburton each adding 16 off the bench, and Jaren Jackon Jr. dominant defensively with 6 blocks. The Americans rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to beat Germany 99-91, using an 18-0 run in the final minutes to put the game away as they finished a perfect 5-0 in exhibition play.
This will be the third time that New Zealand has faced the United States at the World Cup; their first meeting a 62-100 loss to the US at the 2002 World Champs – which ironically saw the Kiwis finish in a historic fourth place, one place ahead of the United States. And at the 2014 World Cup, the Americans took a 98-71 decision against the Tall Blacks before going on to win gold at that tournament.
Coach Cameron says that his team is looking forward to playing in front of a loud and enthusiastic Philippines audience in Manila.
“The basketball environment here is great, I think anyone who is bought up in basketball circles and they come here and see the passion from the general public around all levels [of basketball], they really put a lot of support in there. It’s great for any basketball enthusiast,” says Cameron.
The Tall Blacks take on the United States in Group Play at 12.40am NZT on Sunday morning, in their first game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Watch all games live and free at TVNZ+ and Duke.
Find out more about the FIBA World Cup at www.fiba.basketball/basketballworldcup/2023
Tall Blacks 1st Round Schedule – FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup
New Zealand vs USA – Sunday 27 August, 12.40am NZT
New Zealand vs Jordan – Monday 28 August, 8.45pm NZT
New Zealand vs Greece – Thursday 31 August, 12.40am NZT
Tall Blacks Squad vs USA, FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup 2023
Finn Delany, Telekom Baskets Bonn / NZ Breakers
Flynn Cameron, Melbourne United
Hyrum Harris, Hawkes Bay Hawks / Perth Wildcats
Isaac Fotu, Utsunomiya Brex
Izayah Le’Afa, Wellington Saints / NZ Breakers
Jordan Ngatai, Hawkes Bay Hawks
Reuben Te Rangi, Auckland Tuatara / S.E. Melbourne Phoenix
Shea Ili, Melbourne United
Taylor Britt, Canterbury Rams
Tohi Smith-Milner, Wellington Saints / Adelaide 36ers
Walter Brown, Canterbury Rams / Tasmania Jackjumpers
Yanni Wetzell, Alba Berlin
USA Squad vs New Zealand
Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets
Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
Josh Hart, New York Knicks
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Cameron Johnson, Brooklyn Nets
Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
Bobby Portis, Milwaukee Bucks
Austin Reaves, Los Angeles Lakers