The Junior Tall Blacks (JTB) team has been named for the FIBA Oceania Championships in Fiji, which could be one of the strongest junior basketball teams yet.
Head Coach Daryl Cartwright says every one of the 12 players have the confidence to lead and step up to a more intense level of competition.
“In their respective teams or schools, they are the leaders, they are the ones to make the big plays or carry their teams just about every time they step on the floor. That brings a confidence that we need them to carry to the Oceania Championships. I feel we have genuine depth in the squad and every player has the ability to be a starter for us.”
The team already has a number of players that are well known to the basketball community for more than their on-court ability.
The basketball pedigree of two new faces is particularly notable – Flynn and Tobias Cameron, the sons of Tall Black legend and Tall Black Assistant Coach Pero Cameron. Both live in the Gold Coast and although they are eligible to compete for Australia, they have put their hands up for New Zealand.
Dan Fotu is another familiar name, being the younger brother of Tall Black and Zaragoza player Isaac Fotu. Dan Fotu was also selected for the Basketball Without Borders Asia Camp, alongside JTB team mates Sam Waardenburg, Taane Samuel and Quinn Clinton. Clinton went on to be named MVP of the camp’s All Star Game, while Waardenburg was named MVP of the entire camp.
Sam Waardenburg has already hit the headlines multiple times through playing in the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Champs, being picked for the prestigious NIKE All Asia Camp, attending the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp, attending the Adidas Nations Tournament and for signing to Miami University on a full Division 1 Scholarship. JTB teammate Takiula Fahrensohn has also signed to Division 1 with the University of Portland.
Another stand out player is seven foot tall Callum McRae, the team’s big man who will play a key defensive role. Notably he led the Palmerston North Boys team to a near upset at the Secondary Schools Nationals in October, had it not been for the Rangitoto buzzer beater in the final second.
From March 2015, the JTB wider squad have been targeting the 2016 FIBA Oceania Championships as a pinnacle event. The winner of the tournament will qualify for the FIBA Under 19 World Cup in Cairo next year. Coach Cartwright says the difficult final selection is the result of standout performances from each of these players, while a number of those who didn’t make the final cut could also step up if there are injuries.
“We have had a very dedicated and committed group over the course of the lead up campaign, and there is real depth in every position. The squad have risen to the challenges we have asked of them this year and competed hard for the opportunity to represent New Zealand. It is always a position you would prefer to be in as coaching staff, to debate player’ attributes and who we think fits with the style we want to play, as well as the expectations that come with being part of this New Zealand team.”
With less than a month until the Oceania Championships tip off, Cartwright says what the team needs now is time to develop as a group, which will be the focus while the team are in camp this week.
“It takes time to develop playing as a group. Developing that understanding of how to get the best out of your teammates, where they like to score and other factors. We have not had the luxury of international competition as part of our build up, but that cannot be an excuse, we must demand the very best of each other so we can prepare for the challenge of potentially facing a very good Australian team.”
Australia are the top seeds for the event. A number of the current JTBs played this Australian team in 2015 at the FIBA Under 16 Oceania Championships, only losing within the final moments of final, despite having beaten the team in pool play. New Zealand is yet to win an Oceania age-group championships, mainly due to the dominance of a well-funded Australian basketball system.
“We are looking at how we can use what our strengths are to face them,” says Cartwright. “As a playing group we will need to play together as a team. If you look at what truly makes the Tall Blacks a special team, it is how they draw together as a playing group and are prepared to fight and scrap for every possession. Are you prepared to work for your teammate beside you for every second of the clock? It is about the mana of the singlet. That’s what allows them to push the giants on the world stage. We have to be prepared to do that all the way to the final game.
“My drive is to get our athletes to a World Championship. To be able to represent New Zealand in a tournament where they have the opportunity to compete against the best in the world is a big deal for these players.”
The JTBs is a development team where its alumni often go on to higher honours. Cartwright says this team is a fine example of the state of New Zealand basketball and the increasing rise of New Zealand basketball on the world stage.
“We are seeing a growth period in the game in New Zealand at present and, with the success of Steven Adams in the NBA, we are going to see that continue. There are also many administrators and coaches all around the country who put in a lot of hours to develop the game because they have a passion for the sport. As the people in key roles and those they work alongside continue to develop and improve, so will the talent of our junior players. The number of kiwi athletes in the American college system at the moment is at an all-time high and quality Division 1 and 2 schools are looking at our emerging talent. As these players go through the system, we may well see more Kiwis flying the New Zealand flag in the NBA or WNBA. The end result is greater depth at the Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns level.”
Junior Tall Blacks – Final 12 (Name | Age | Position | Height | Association):
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