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Tall order for Tall Blacks

BREAKERS development player Dan Fotu owns the only new face in the 15-man Tall Blacks roster for New Zealand’s upcoming FIBA World Cup qualifying games in China and Korea.

While Australia's NBL-based Boomers prepare for internationals in Melbourne against the Philippines and Chinese Taipei, the Tall Blacks hit the road for a key double.

A former Junior Tall Black, if Fotu wins selection in the final 12, he will join his older brother Isaac in the lineup to play China and Korea.

Isaac Fotu is playing in Germany but is committed to joining Paul Henare’s MBO (pronounced “maybo”) New Zealand Tall Blacks for this vital leg of the campaign.

The team assembles in China on February 20 in preparation for crucial games against their hosts (February 23) and against Korea (February 26), the latter match particularly important after the Tall Blacks dropped their home game to Korea in November.

Henare named 15 players to cover injury or unavailability, many players involved in the Breakers’ final two NBL regular season games this week against Illawarra Hawks at home on Friday, before travelling to Sydney to play the Kings on Sunday.

Henare (pictured) otherwise stuck by the players he used against Korea in Wellington and in the win against Hong Kong on the road in the November window.

“We have reviewed and gone over November’s window in fine detail, but the bottom line is we didn’t come out firing, we weren’t as ready as we should have been against Korea in Wellington,” he said.

“This window has an even tighter schedule. We will get together for the first time as a group in China, have two days on the floor and then go to battle against a very good side, arguably one of the toughest in the world to beat at home.

“We have and will continue to do all we can to learn from November’s experience, to be ready and to play as we expect the Tall Blacks to play, fighting for every possession, punching above our weight and not taking a backward step.”

The team boasts great international experience in Tom Abercrombie, Corey Webster, Jarrod Kenny, with Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster both joining the team from Germany.

Shea Ili, Tall Blacks captain Reuben Te Rangi, Jordan Ngatai and Finn Delany – all playing NBL – logged significant minutes at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut.

The Breakers’ centre pieces - Rob Loe and Alex Pledger - lead the frontcourt, with Tohi Smith-Milner, who has been impressive with Melbourne United this season.

Ethan Rusbatch and Derone Raukawa (NZ Breakers) round out the 15, with both selected on the back of strong performances at the Asia Cup last year.

Mika Vukona’s absence is huge but the warrior power forward has not been cleared by Breakers medical staff as the club manages him through the busy end to the regular season.

“The advice on Mika is that he shouldn't travel and play in these games,” Henare said.

“He remains an integral part of our group however and plays a huge role in what we are trying to achieve in the long term.”

Henare will leave a final decision on his travelling 12 until the last moment, with a final check on fitness before players board planes from various parts of the world after games this weekend.

The Tall Blacks Roster to play China and Korea - (12 to travel) : Shea Ili (NZ Breakers), Jarrod Kenny (Perth Wildcats), Tai Webster (Fraport Skyliners), Derone Raukawa (NZ Breakers), Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets), Corey Webster (Ironi Nahariya), Ethan Rusbatch, Tom Abercrombie (NZ Breakers), Jordan Ngatai (NZ Breakers), Finn Delany (NZ Breakers), Dan Fotu (NZ Breakers), Isaac Fotu (Ratiopharm Ulm), Tohi Smith-Milner (Melbourne United), Rob Loe (NZ Breakers), Alex Pledger (NZ Breakers). Head Coach: Paul Henare. Assistant Coaches: Pero Cameron, Michael Fitchett

Feb 13

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