The Tall Blacks have named its travelling squad of 13 players for both a national team preparation camp and a pair of friendly games in Atsugi, Japan this week – in advance of their World Cup Qualifier opponents in Saudi Arabia and Jordan on 25 and 29 August respectively.
The squad for the Tall Blacks Japan Tour includes: Benjamin Gold, Carlin Davison, Dion Prewster, Ethan Rusbatch, Flynn Cameron, Isaac Fotu, Jordan Hunt, Jordan Ngatai, Nikau McCollough, Reuben Te Rangi, Sam Dempster, Shea Ili and Taki Fahrensohn.
Head coach is Pero Cameron, with Ross McMains, Zico Coronel and Michael Fitchett named as his assistant coaches.
This team named for Japan represents an intriguing blend of players from previous Tall Blacks campaigns this year, alongside a pair of pre-Covid veterans and a trio of athletes new to the national team environment.
Gold, Rusbatch, Fahrensohn and Prewster all played in the second window in Manila in March this year, beating the Philippines and India (twice) to secure a 3-0 record in this window. That trio of Prewster, Rusbatch and Fahrensohn then returned for the third window – a win versus Philippines in Auckland – where they were joined by Cameron and veterans Ili and Ngatai.
And last month Ngatai, Fahrensohn, Cameron and Hunt all provided major contributions for the bronze medal-winning team in the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta.
For Fotu, this will be his first time wearing the black singlet since 2019; the veteran forward having appeared in 65 games for the Tall Blacks since 2011.
“My last game for the Tall Blacks was in the 2019 World Cup, just before all this covid stuff happened, which meant I couldn’t travel from the country I was in,” says Fotu.
“I’m just happy to be back, especially with Reuben [Te Rangi] also coming back and all these talented young guys I’ve seen playing this year – I’m just excited to play for the Tall Blacks again.”
In contrast to the veteran presence in the squad, three players will also be in contention to play their maiden games for the Tall Blacks in Davison, Dempster and McCullough – noting that McCullough has represented previously New Zealand for the 3×3 Tall Blacks, but not in the 5 on 5 setting.
McCullough – who won a title with the Otago Nuggets over the weekend in the Sal’s NBL – joins the squad as a replacement for Taylor Britt, who was named to the squad but is unable to travel to Japan due to illness.
The addition of Davison and Dempster is of particular interest; at 18, Carlin will be the youngest member of the squad while Sam – at 32 years – clocks in as the second-oldest player on the team after Prewster. Dempster says he was “totally caught off-guard” by his selection.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be honest, I got an email to say I’d been selected into the squad and then had a phone call from Pero – who is someone I grew up watching when I was young and have always looked up to – which was surreal,” says Dempster.
“To get my name called was a real moment for me, very special and it was cool to be able to tell my wife and kids about it.”
Dempster – who recently won the Sal’s NBL Most Improved player award after a stellar season with the Nelson Giants – had initially thought his chances of becoming a Tall Black had ‘come and gone’ for him.
“It’s always been a goal for mine to wear the black jersey, but in all honesty at the point of my career that I’m at, I had kinda thought I was past it – so it’s an honour and a privilege to be recognised this year for the effort I’ve put in, and I’m going to give it my all.”
Following the prep camp and friendly games against Japan, the Tall Blacks will announce the squad that will play in its two FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in Window 4; versus Saudi Arabia in Dammam on 25 August, followed by a home game against Jordan on 29 August. This Tall Blacks team will include both players from the Japan Tour, alongside other kiwi athletes from outside of the Japan Tour squad.
Tickets for the Tall Blacks versus Jordan – held at Auckland’s Eventfinda Stadium on Monday 29 August – can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/yncnf83n
Tall Blacks Squad of 13 – Japan Tour
Benjamin Gold, Marquette University
Carlin Davison, Taranaki Airs
Dion Prewster, Melbourne United / Sandringham Sabres
Ethan Rusbatch, Hawkes Bay Hawks
Flynn Cameron, Riverside California
Isaac Fotu, Brex Utsunomiya
Jordan Hunt, Hawkes Bay Hawks
Jordan Ngatai, Wellington Saints
Nikau McCollough, Otago Nuggets
Reuben Te Rangi, South East Melbourne Phoenix
Sam Dempster, Nelson Giants
Shea Ili, Melbourne United / Sandringham Sabres
Taki Fahrensohn, Auckland Tuatara
Head Coach: Pero Cameron
Assistant Coach: Ross McMains
Assistant Coach: Zico Coronel
Assistant Coach: Michael Fitchett
Team Manager: Gavin Briggs
Doctor: Hamish Osborne
Physiotherapist: Todd Wolfe
Massage Therapist: Shelley Moana Hiha
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jaron Kung