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Big names absent as Tall Blacks unveil youthful trialists for Fiba Asia Cup

If this is Fiba's brave new world of international basketball, New Zealand's entry into it appears to be a somewhat reluctant one.

Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare, as previously signposted, has named a development-level group of trialists for his squad's first foray into the newly aligned international landscape for the Fiba Asia Cup in Lebanon from August 8-20, and a visit to China beforehand.

all Blacks coach Paul Henare will take a development-level team to the Fiba Asia Cup in August. ANTHONY AU-YEUNG/GETTY IMAGES
Missing from the 14-strong group named to trial for 12 spots in Auckland from July 20-26 are a veritable who's who of Kiwi hoops.

As Henare indicated he would do, he has spared senior Tall Blacks this event – New Zealand's first foray into the Asia zone – so the likes of Corey and Tai Webster, Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Isaac Fotu, Rob Loe, Alex Pledger, Jarrod Kenny, Everard Bartlett and BJ Anthony are all absent. Mike Karena is also out injured and Steven Adams naturally continues his national no-show.

Throw in US-based collegians either injured or not released such as Tai Wynyard, Jack Salt, Sam Waarenburg, Dan Fotu, Izayah Leafa, Yanni Wetzel and Matt Freeman, and it's a group that, at best, can be labelled "emerging".

Still, Henare is adamant this is the best way forward as he prioritises for the World Cup qualifiers in November 2017, February 2018 and June/July 2018, where the Tall Blacks will seek to book a place at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, and beyond that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"Looking at the schedule and looking ahead, we thought we'd use this as an opportunity to rest some of the more experienced guys, but more so to create an opportunity for some of these young guys and see if we can get them up to speed as quickly as possible, because we may need to call on some of them over the next few years," he said from las Vegas where he is scouting talent for the Breakers.

There is at least some international experience among the 14 contenders for the Asia Cup, with Shea Ili, Reuben Te Rangi, Finn Delany, Derone Raukawa, Ethan Rusbatch and Jordan Ngatai all having had time with the Tall Blacks previously. They will form the "veteran" core of the side, with Henare looking for them to emerge as the leaders of the group.

There is also some decent size provided by University of Washington-based Sam Timmins and the 2.08m James Hunter who was recently unveiled as the New Zealand Breakers' latest full roster signing.
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It is no surprise, either, that eight of the 12 players who toured China last month with New Zealand Select have been named to attend the camp in Auckland.

"Many of the players in contention for the Asia Cup have experience of at least one New Zealand Select tour, so have a better understanding of what it is to play internationally and represent New Zealand," Henare said.

"This will be a great group to work with, and one that has the potential to surprise in Beirut. But this is also a great investment in the depth of our game, with these players almost certainly needing to be ready to play their part over the next three years as we build towards the ultimate goal of Tokyo 2020."

The other main benefit of sparing so many senior players this event is giving them a proper off-season to refresh and prepare for their commitments ahead, Henare added.

"I have spoken to all other players and explained the long-term thinking. A number weren't available for a variety of reasons, and while some are disappointed not to be selected for the Asia Cup, everyone understands what we are trying to achieve is on board with the longer-term goals of China 2019 and Tokyo 2020."

Included among the youthful trialists are Junior Tall Blacks Isaac Letoa, Quinn Clinton, Taane Samuel and Callum McRae who helped the side finish 11th at the recent Fiba under-19 World Cup.

There are also first Tall Blacks camp appearances for Hunter, his Southland Sharks team-mate Luke Aston and Aussie-based Dyson King-Hawea (Nunawading Spectres).

Henare said his expectations for the group were more effort than results based.

"I expect them to play for each other, and for the jersey, and play the right way," he said. "It's about understanding who we are as a team and playing with a lot of pride and passion."

Tall Blacks trialists, Auckland, July 20 to 26: Shea Ili (NZBreakers/Wellington Saints), Derone Raukawa (Breakers, Southland Sharks), Isaac Letoa (Wellington Saints), Quinn Clinton (Canterbury), Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury Rams), Luke Aston (Southland Sharks), Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets/Southland Sharks), Dyson King-Hawea (Nunawading Spectres, Aus), Jordan Ngatai (Wellington Saints),Taane Samuel (Wellington), Finn Delany (Breakers/Nelson Giants), Sam Timmins (Washington University), James Hunter (Breakers/Southland Sharks), Callum McRae (Manawatu). 

Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/basketball/94643650/big-names-absent-as-tall-blacks-unveil-youthful-trialists-for-fiba-asia-cup

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