Thursday 13 August 2015

Oceania series preview - Feels like 2009

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Tall Blacks throughout their games so far. First up against Great Britain, who are a bit of an unknown to me since I’ve never played against them, they had a close victory in a closed game before a 20 point blowout win in front of a big crowd in London. A great result for such a young team and a pretty good way to start the Paul Henare era. 
They followed that up with two solid performances against Croatia, which ended in a heart breaking last second three to Croatian guard Rok Stipčević, and then Slovenia. The game against Slovenia wasn’t pretty shooting wise but the team would have been disappointed with the result after leading at half and three quarter time. 
While both European powerhouses were missing players, we were as well, so taking them to the last minute of each game was promising with a team that hadn’t spent much time together. Despite not getting the results they all wanted. 
The good form continued in the Stankovic Cup in China, going undefeated against Venezuela, Mexico (who we played twice) and China. Corey Webster continued his great form being the teams’ most consistent scoring threat. But the entire team played solid basketball during the tournament. 
Tom Abercrombie, Isaac Fotu and Reuben Te Rangi all had games where they lead the team offensively or provided a secondary scoring threat for Webster, helping him with the scoring load he has to carry. The team also played well down the stretch of all the games, showing they had learnt a lot after letting the games against Croatia and Slovenia slip through their fingers.

Having Paul Henare around the team has been great. He’s got a nice resume already in his short coaching career, and he is turning into one of those coaches that players really want to play for. I went to the first couple of days of Tall Blacks training camp and it was quite different to how Nenad Vucinic previously ran things. 
Typically the first few days under Nenad would involve a lot of break downs and a lot of running certain actions within a 2-on-2 / 3-on-3  offence, gradually moving into running a complete 5 on 5 set after we worked on the timing and speed of each part of it. Pauli’s style is almost the opposite. He draws a play on the white board and plays live 5-on-5 right away with any adjustments and tweaks needed learnt on the fly. I think the players really enjoyed it. 
Being part of the last team (2009) to win the Oceania Series was special. My favourite memory was of the third quarter in the second game in Wellington. We won the quarter 36-15, hitting 14-of-18 shots. Everybody was making everything! Mika Vukona banked in a three as the shot clock was about to expire, Tom Abercrombie followed up a trademark alley-oop with a very tough fade away jumper at the foul line off a spin move, and to top it off Mike Fitchett hit a three on the three quarter buzzer from about 10 feet behind the arch. We ended up winning the game by 22 points. 
We had to win by eight to qualify (after losing Game 1 in Sydney 84-77) and I’m going to remember that quarter for a long time. It was one of the very few times in my international career, at junior or senior level, where a New Zealand team has blown away an Australian team like that
The Oceania Series is really just one big 80 minute game rather than two separate games and every possession is extremely important. In 2009, Corey Webster hit a deep three with just a few seconds left in the Game 1 loss that at the time didn’t seem like a big deal but ultimately made winning the series in the second game seem far more reachable. 
This year’s team has a lot of similarities to the 2009 squad. The team is pretty young with a few first year players and players that have been in the team for a few years but are just now getting increased responsibility with the unavailability or retirement of players they have played behind in the past.  
Prediction wise, I’m not going to do a Rasheed Wallace and guarantee anything, but I think is this team is definitely capable of pulling off an upset! As usual, they will be underdogs but they will be fearless and if everyone plays their part I think they can definitely do it….A few 36-15 quarters like back in 2009 wouldn’t hurt either. 

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