The Anchor Junior Tall Blacks have ended their FIBA U19 World Cup on a high, thrashing hosts Egypt 85-69 to finish 11th at the tournament, on the first occasion New Zealand has ever qualified a team to play at this level.
The win was earned on a strong performance across the board, the team dominated rebounds as they have through most of the tournament, cut down turnovers and shot the ball at a good clip throughout.
Head Coach Daryl Cartwright spoke of the atmosphere playing the hosts and the way his team handled that pressure.
“The crowd built over the game, there was a delay at halftime and the crowd seemed to double before the second half started and it spurred them on to come back at us but we gathered, made some good plays and finished strongly.
“Our starting group has been pretty consistent for the most part, Taane has been up there in our scoring and I think Tai ended up leading the team for scoring and rebounding. Quinn has provided great leadership to the team as well. But the bench too has provided good production at times, but the starting group has played a big part in our tournament.”
Cartwright acknowledged the contribution from Isaac Letoa in the assist column tonight, as he again went close to double figures.
“Isaac has had two games with nine assists now and does a good job when he plays under control and has our systems running and gets guys the right looks. There have been some areas we have struggled with, notably turnovers, and we got that ratio right tonight for sure.”
Cartwright also referenced the commitment from everyone involved in the team and the programme, most notably the families and players themselves.
“I am proud of the team, the staff and everyone’s families in what we have achieved. It has been a tough six months with our preparation, trying to get all the guys together, with Sam based in Miami and not part of our build up at all really. Our isolation makes it difficult too, trying to play other U19 teams in the buildup to get a feel for the style of basketball that we would come up against.”
While disappointed not to have gone deeper into the tournament and earned a top ten ranking, Cartwright reflected on a team that never threw in the towel and always gave 100%.
“I spoke about it in the locker room today, in virtually every game we were within four or five points in the final moments. A couple of those results below out as we were fouling at the end trying to get back in. But we showed we are a competitive side and found a way even when losing badly in the number of possessions for each team on the back of our turnover issues.
“There are some learnings for our guys, hopefully this experience is a positive one to motivate them to continue to develop, work hard and one day be in the Tall Blacks. This group of young men can be the core of the Tall Blacks for a few years to come, if they continue their development wherever they end up over the next few years.”
Cartwright says the game is in rude good health, with a depth and level of talent being produced like never before, but the challenges are significant for a sport that has multiple national teams and programmes in action at any one time – all largely 100% funded by the sport or the players and their families.
“The game is going from strength to strength, as our local associations and coaches improve their knowledge and systems. We are seeing more and more young people choose basketball as their sport of choice instead of a second sport. I hope that growth continues, but it needs financial support to match it.
“One of the areas is the possibility of long-term government funding to support this programme and filter down to the junior teams. One of the challenges is we are athlete funded, sometimes that can exclude some of our best athletes. I know we are the only team here at the World Cup that is athlete funded, that is the reality of what we are going up against.”
Anchor Junior Tall Blacks 85
Wynyard 17 & 10, Samuel 17, Clinton 12 & 5 & 4 assists, Letoa 7 points 9 assists
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