It was only three days into camp, it was only a live scrimmage, and this young Tall Blacks side had spent the morning hard at work on the training court, but Paul Henare likes what he saw from his young charges as they pushed China to the limit at Bruce Pulman Arena tonight in closed doors game, eventually going down 70-80.
With the Tall Blacks so early in their preparation, and with the focus very much on the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon in August, the decision to play China in what amounted to a live scrimmage was understandable, but the quality of the first up performance based very much on trademark Tall Blacks hustle and defence was perhaps a surprise, even to Head Coach Henare.
“That was a good start, obviously there is plenty to work on, but for a group that has been together for three days, with five players who have never played for the Tall Blacks before, I liked what they gave me. We can work on the technical things, we can work on our playbook, but the desire is something that players have to bring and I saw that tonight.”
The Tall Blacks started well but faded in the final minutes of the first quarter as their offence misfired, but it was the defensive intensity that was keeping the Rueben Te Rangi led side in the contest as they constantly frustrated the Chinese, who have been together and on tour for close to a month, most recently with games in Australia.
By halftime the shooting percentage was down to just 28%, but with the margin just six points, the Tall Blacks were very much in the contest. The third quarter was an even affair, with neither side able to exert any real dominance, China went into the final break leading 52-45.
A Shea Ili inspired run in the final quarter hinted at a most improbable upset, with 11 unanswered points wiping out that 7-point deficit and seeing the Chinese call timeout to stop the rot. The much more exepr3inced visiting team soon settled and the shooting woes returned for New Zealand, as they visibly tired in the final minutes and China made a series of banked threes to blow out the lead to ten by the final buzzer.
For the Tall Blacks, guards Ili and Derone Raukawa had 13 and 12 points respectively, while Tohi Smith-Milner impressed with his play in the paint, picking up 11 points, Rebounding was shared around, with all the ‘bigs’ contributing in an effort inspired performance, one that understandably trended down in the final moments on the back of a two-hour morning training session.
It was the defensive effort that pleased Henare most though, the offensive game will improve with time together and games in china, but it was perhaps with a little of his own trademark hustle game in mind that the Head Coach was quietly proud of his young side as they begin to make their way in the international game.
The two teams play again tomorrow in another closed-door scrimmage, with the Tall Blacks again set for a training session in the morning as they look to cram in as much practice time together before departing for China on Wednesday night, and the FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon in August.
Tall Blacks 70
Ili 13, Raukawa 12, Smith-Milner 11, Te Rangi 8 points 4 assists, Timmins 6 points 6 rebounds, Delany 6 points 7 rebounds