The Tall Blacks have arrived after a 21-hour journey from Brisbane to Guam, with 38 hours between their heads hitting the pillows at 3am Saturday morning and game time at 5pm tomorrow (8pm Sunday NZT) in the first FIBA window for 2021 Asia Cup qualifying.
But such is life as an international basketballer in the FIBA windows, you won’t hear any complaints from the economy class flying New Zealanders, who know the magnitude of the challenge they face against the Tai Wesley led Guam side who host arguably the biggest game in their basketball history as they host one of the Asian powerhouses at home for the first time in qualifying.
“We have nothing but respect for Guam and the challenge they will be for us tomorrow,” said head coach Pero Cameron.
“They are a well drilled team who have come through their first rounds of qualifying in very confident fashion and this is a big game for them and their fans, you just now they are going to be up for this.”
Guam will be led by the Wesley brothers, with Tai the most well known of course to New Zealand and Australian fans for his work in the Australian League, notably with the New Zealand Breakers. He will be supported by brothers Russell and Mekeli and well credentialed Curtis Washington, Jonathan Galloway and Earnest Ross.
28-year-old Washington is a 6’10” centre and former NCAA Division one player who spent time with Nelson and Taranaki in the Sal’s NBL so is known to the Kiwis. Ross is a power forward with a 208cm wingspan who was on contract to the Perth Wildcats for the 2014/15 season, before he too tasted life in New Zealand with the Super City Rangers in 2017, averaging 19 points and 6 rebounds that season. Galloway is another big body, playing in the Danish League and brings excellent rebounding and shot blocking to the Guam side.
Cameron says they are taking nothing for granted and have done all they can to scout Guam in tricky circumstances.
“We were expecting of course to have tape from their game against Hong Kong, but when that was called off we had to go searching for footage from their recent games in pre-qualifying and the Pacific Cup. We feel we have a pretty good understanding of what they will bring tomorrow and how we will look to counter their strengths, but equally this is about us imposing Tall Blacks basketball on them.”
That game was called off by the Governor of Guam in light of the Corona Virus scare, with Hong Kong making a fruitless journey to Guam, only to turn around and head directly to Australia where they will face the Boomers tomorrow.
For the Kiwis, look to Shea Ili, Reuben Te Rangi and Mika Vukona to once again lead the men in black, Te Rangi and Ili led the New Zealand offence superbly against Australia with identical stat lines of 21 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists and will again look to spark New Zealand on attack, with sharp shooting Jordan Ngatai another to watch on the back of his 19 points against the Boomers (3 of 6 three pointers).
Cameron says the key however is to focus on Tall Blacks basketball and let the result follow.
“The important thing for us is to stay true to who we are as a team and play the basketball that has delivered us such strong recent results, including the win over the Aussies. But that win will count for little if we don’t back it up tomorrow, the long trip won’t be a factor, the adrenaline and excitement of pulling on that black singlet will see us ready to go at tip off.”
FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers | Round One
- 20 February. Tall Blacks 108, Australia 98
- 23 February. Tall Blacks v Guam, Calvo Fieldhouse, Yigo Village, Guam.
- Official FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers Website: http://www.fiba.basketball/asiacup/2021/qualifiers
- Tall Blacks webpage: https://nz.basketball/national-teams/tall-blacks/
- Follow the Tall Blacks’ social media channels: @TallBlacks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Hashtags: #TuKaha #TallBlacks
Maori Television will broadcast both games live:
- 9:30pm V Australia, 20 February 20
- 7:50pm V Guam, 23 February