Tuesday morning bought some welcome news for the Tall Blacks camp, with the New Zealand men’s national team officially locked into the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
This followed the Tall Black’s 100-72 win over Jordan on Monday night – combined with a Philippines victory over Saudi Arabia early on Tuesday morning – to give the Kiwis a coveted ticket to the FIBA World Cup in August 2023; one of only six teams to qualify so far, alongside hosts Japan, Philippines, Finland, Cote d’lvoire and Lebanon.
The FIBA World tips off from 29 Aug – 10 Sep 2023 across Indonesia, Philippines and Japan. New Zealand will be one of 32 men’s teams vying for the Naismith Trophy, with Spain coming in as the defending champions after an undefeated run at the 2019 World Cup in China.
The Tall Blacks will be making their sixth straight World Cup appearance next year, and seventh in total. They will be looking to improve on their 19th-placed finish in the 2019 World Cup, with the goal to replicate the success of their 2002 run where they made it all the way to the Semi-Finals and finished fourth overall.
How did they get there?
In order to qualify for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the Tall Blacks embarked on a series of FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers which began February – with the First Round and Second Round each comprising of three ‘windows’ in which Qualifier games are played.
As one of 16 teams in the Asian Qualifiers competition for 6 spots, New Zealand was placed into Group A alongside Korea, Philippines and India. For the first window the squad travelled to Manila in February – playing their first international games in over a year – for a three game mini-tournament against India and the Philippines.
In their first test against India, the Kiwis racked up a massive 101-46 score line. They continued their unbeaten run in Manila, dispatching Philippines 88-63 and coming away with a 95-60 win in their re-match with India.
Next up came a re-match with Philippines, with this game played in Auckland – making this the Tall Black’s first game on home soil since 2018. Again the Gilas Pilipinas team proved no obstacle to New Zealand, with the Kiwis winning 106-60 to secure a first place finish in Pool A at the end of the First Round.
Heading into the Second Round, the Asian Qualifiers pool was reduced to 12 with New Zealand now competing over the three remaining windows in Pool E against Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Philippines and India. Their first test came against Saudi Arabia, with the Kiwis facing this squad in Dammam for the first time in international play; the Tall Blacks securing a 80-65 victory.
Returning home, the Kiwis most recently played Jordan in Auckland – that result a thrilling 100-72 win at Eventfinda Stadium. That placed New Zealand first in their Group E pool with a 6-0 record, as one of only two unbeaten teams in the Asian Qualifiers (Australia being the other).
Overall the Tall Blacks averaged 95 points over these 6 games – scoring 100+ points three times – while holding their opponents to just 61 points per game; an average margin of victory of 34 points. New Zealand shot a combined 47% from the floor during these games, while also averaging 48.5 rebounds per game; outrebounding their opponents by an average of 15 boards per game.
Looking Ahead: Tall Blacks in the Second Round
Even though they’ve qualified for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, the Asian Qualifier games will continue through the next two windows of the Second Round.
Next up is a pair of away games in the Middle East; the Tall Blacks taking on Lebanon on 10 November followed by a re-match with Jordan on 13 November. And for the sixth and final window, the Kiwis return to New Zealand for two games – hosting Saudi Arabia in Christchurch on 24 February 2023 and then Lebanon in Wellington on 27 February 2023.
BBNZ Head of High Performance, Chelsea Lane says while securing a place in the World Cup is a great achievement for New Zealand, the hard work does not stop here.
“What the Tall Blacks has achieved is a great milestone on their journey, but it’s really just a precursor for all the hard work yet to come,” says Lane.
“Qualifying now means a lot for what this team has achieved; it’s also really important to acknowledge that this is the start of a really important story for our athletes and they will continue growing as a team to bring out the best version of themselves – and the best version of the Tall Blacks – to the table as we prepare for the World Cup.
“And we have to be really cognisant that when we’re expecting that of them – given the long road they’ve been on and the miles travelled with the banged-up knees and the sleepless nights – that we show up for them as humans as well, and support them and get behind them on their journey in a physical and mental way. For all of us it’s about recognising what these athletes have gone through to get to here, and what they’re going to have to draw on moving forward.”
One of these players is Reuben Te Rangi, who played a key role in the last two games for the Tall Blacks. Te Rangi says that the squad is intent on going undefeated all the way to next year’s FIBA World Cup.
“We are (building good depth), these next two windows we’re looking at as stepping-stones towards the World Cup,” says Te Rangi.
“We’re coming out to win every game. They’re leadups and because we don’t get much time together, those are our building blocks.”