After 110 appearances in the black jersey – including three World Cups and a Commonwealth Games medal – one of the Aotearoa’s greatest ever Tall Blacks has today announced his retirement from international play.
Tom Abercrombie was born and raised in Auckland, where he captained his Westlake Boys High School to a Secondary School National Championships title in 2005. As a junior, Tom played for North Harbour Basketball Association and represented New Zealand with the Junior Tall Blacks, while also part of the Emerging Tall Blacks squad at the 2006 World University Games.
Making his senior Tall Blacks debut as a 22-year-old for the squad’s 2009 Europe Tour, Tom averaged 8.5ppg and 4.2rpg over eight games under then-head coach Nenad Vucinic, finishing second in scoring behind Kirk Penney. Later that year, he was a member of the Tall Blacks team that beat Australia to win the FIBA Oceania Championships.
It was at the 2010 FIBA World Championships that Tom broke out on the international stage; averaging 12.7ppg (second only to Penney) and a team-leading 6.8rpg despite being one of the youngest players on the squad. This set up Tom to become a key part of the Tall Blacks – and one of its most recognisable names – over the next decade, as he became one of only six Kiwis to ever appear at three FIBA World Cups.
In 2018 he was also a member of the bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, leading the Tall Blacks with 17.4ppg and scoring a memorable 26 points in the bronze game versus Scotland. His last Tall Blacks appearance was at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, averaging 9.6ppg and 5.6rpg over five games which included an 18-point outing against Greece.
With 110 national team appearances under his belt – including 13 captaincies – 36-year-old Tom says that now is a good time to hang up the black jersey for good.
“It’s never an easy decision to make, but it’s been a while since I’ve pulled on the jersey and I have a lot of other commitments away from basketball now, especially in a family sense,” says Tom.
“It makes time even more precious, and unfortunately the commitment I’d want to make to the black jersey I can’t make anymore – I need to focus that time on other things. It’s certainly tougher when you feel like you still have something to give to the Tall Blacks, but ultimately there’s move to life for me now than basketball and I needed to make that decision to spend that time and energy on my family.”
Tom says that family and other reasons all factored into his ‘tough’ decision.
“I had a chat with Pero [Cameron] and I would’ve loved to have played one more World Cup – I’ve played in three of them and they’ve been some of the greatest experiences I’ve had playing basketball. It would’ve been a wonderful opportunity to play one more, but I haven’t been able to able to be part of any of the build-up or qualification games for the World Cup because of other commitments. And the commitment required for a World Cup campaign – having been through them many times before – is great; there’s a huge amount of sacrifice and time away from home that goes into that; I just wasn’t able to commit myself to that timeframe for another campaign.”
Reflecting back on his Tall Blacks career, Tom says some of his favourite memories are being part of those World Cup squads in the world’s biggest stage.
“The very first [World Cup] I went to was very special, it was only my second year in the Tall Blacks environment and I was a young up-and-comer who was able to play really well in that tournament. I had some good games which I guess put me on the map a little and opened up all sorts of other opportunities for me in the future.
“The second World Cup in Spain was an amazing atmosphere, such a wicked location with all these other countries and playing against America was a highlight. And the last one in China was really special as well for different reasons.”
“In terms of individual games, the ones that stick out was when we beat Australia in Wellington [the 2009 FIBA Oceania Champs]; the first time I’d ever beaten Australia as part of a Tall Blacks team and a really special thing to be part of. I also remember beating the Philippines in an Olympic qualifying tournament a few years back, playing on front of 20,000 people in Manila and how awesome an atmosphere that was.
“And I remember being in Lebanon for one of the World Cup qualifiers before China [2019 World Cup], it was a packed stadium with screaming fans and I hit the game-winner in that one to knock Lebanon out of the World Cup qualification – it was a really special [memory] too. I’ve had a lot of cool memories and some amazing teammates along the way.”
Tom says he while he won’t miss the lengthy travel obligations that come with being a Tall Black, he will miss the ‘specialness’ of being in the national team environment.
“I’ll certainly miss the comradery and the friendship and the environment that the Tall Blacks have always been known for an continues to be known for. It always a special place to be with special people, no matter who comes into the fold, there’s a really good feeling about being in that group and I’ll miss being part of that.
“The great thing about the Tall Blacks is that it’s a selfless environment where you just sacrifice yourself and do whatever it takes for your country and your jersey. That’s always been the focus of playing for the Tall Blacks, just enjoying the environment and doing whatever it takes; going out there and doing a job for your country.”
While this brings an incredible chapter of basketball to a close for Tom, it doesn’t spell the end of his basketball career; the forward having signed on for another season with the NZ Breakers in the Australian NBL. He will also continue to be active in the community for BBNZ, where he has dedicated numerous hours in support of their Hoops in Parks and Hoops in Parks initiatives.
“I feel like it’s a responsibility to give back to the next generation of kids coming through, making sure that basketball is available to everyone in New Zealand. The sport we’ve seen is growing in leaps and bounds and it’s really cool to see the next generation coming through and share a bit of inspiration with kids all over New Zealand.
“We’re a national sport that’s played in each nook and cranny of New Zealand, and it’s been really cool to travel to some of those places and see the enjoyment and excitement these places have for the sport.”