Paul Henare has settled his squad of 14 into Beirut as they prepare for their final FIBA World Qualifying window.
The squad closely mirrors that of the team who defeated Jordan in Christchurch in November and went onto qualify the Tall Blacks for the World Cup with a win over Syria in December. The exception is Corey Webster, returning to the squad in place of Ethan Rusbatch.
One player making headlines in particular is Finn Delany, who has just announced he will move to Serbia to play for FMP Belgrade straight after this FIBA window.
“It’s something completely new. It will be strange not going back to Nelson Giants, who have been amazing about me opting to take my European out in the contract and embark on a new adventure. Mike Fitch has been amazing and accepting of that and encouraging. I thank him for that and the organisation,” says Delany.
With flights booked to Serbia directly from Tall Blacks duties, Delany said the deal was made very quickly, leaving him little time to pack for his European stint.
“One of the reasons to take this is to experience European basketball, go and live that for myself and see how it goes. I’m super-excited to see what it has in store for me.”
For now though, Delany has his mind focused on Tall Blacks duties ahead of tests against Lebanon in Beirut and Jordan in Amman.
At just 22 years of age, Nelson product Delany is already a familiar sight in national team colours and is one to have benefited from Head Coach Paul Henare’s search for depth over recent years, starring at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup when a young New Zealand team missed a medal by the barest of margins.
Delany is in familiar surroundings in Beirut where he has highlighted the determination of the group to end their campaign with two wins this week, disregarding the fact they have already booked a place in China later this year.
“I don’t think anything is different, we are all super excited to be back in camp and go to work. Our process is exactly the same in preparation for these games, if anything we are mindful of having an extra spark to make sure it is business as usual, these games are really important, and everyone is up for it.”
Delany missed the November qualifying window due to injury, something that has further ignited his passion for the black singlet.
“Because of that I have been super excited to be back in camp and enjoy another Tall Black experience. That makes it more important for me to make sure I enjoy it and keep learning and give the black singlet everything I can.”
Delany is further motivated after what was a disappointing season in the ANBL, with the SKYCITY Breakers missing the play-offs.
“It was a year that felt like a bit of an underachievement, even with new ownership and everything, the club is just not used to it. But it’s exciting to get into the Tall Blacks and just have a change of environment and change of scenery at the end of the season.”
Delany says the Tall Blacks is very much like a club team, with the strong family based culture quickly bringing the players, coaches and support staff together and on the same page for the task ahead.
“One of the greatest attributes this team has is how quickly the culture is instilled into the players, even the new ones coming in. That is something the coaching staff and veterans do a great job of implementing. It all comes back to you pretty quickly once you board the flight for wherever you are going.”
Beirut has become a second home to many of this current Tall Blacks group, with the FIBA Asia Cup and a game against Syria in the September window fresh in their minds.
“It is funny to be back here actually, I never thought in my life I would be going to Lebanon, let alone three times in the last 18 months. It is strange, even the drive from the airport to the hotel is familiar and this stretch of Beirut is familiar, the same gym. That is going to help us for sure, but it is still strange.”
While familiar, the Naufal Stadium is a hostile environment, and a packed crowd is again expected to make it difficult for the visitors to think clearly, as they did when the Tall Blacks famously upset the Lebanese at the Asia Cup in 2017.
It is an atmosphere that Delany is craving to experience again though.
“It is extremely exciting, that is one of the high points of my career and most memorable games. It is probably the first and only time I have noticed the crowd and how loud and intense they were while I was playing, it was a crazy atmosphere. I stand next to Jordan in the haka while he leads us, and I just couldn’t hear him and ended up out of time as a result.
“It is an amazing opportunity to play Lebanon in Beirut, I am just looking forward to Friday night.”
Delany is listed within the 14 Tall Blacks, a list that will be narrowed to 12 for this first test against Lebanon.
MBO Tall Blacks vs Lebanon and Jordan
Tom Abercrombie, SKYCITY Breakers
Finn Delany, SKYCITY Breakers
Tyrell Harrison, Brisbane Bullets
Shea Ili, SKYCITY Breakers
Jarrod Kenny, Cairns Taipans
Rob Loe, Cairns Taipans
Jordan Ngatai, SKYCITY Breakers
Kruz Perrott-Hunt, SKYCITY Breakers Development
Alex Pledger, Melbourne United
Tohi Smith-Milner, Melbourne United
Reuben Te Rangi, Brisbane Bullets
Tom Vodanovich, SKYCITY Breakers
Mika Vukona. Mike Pero Nelson Giants, Brisbane Bullets
Corey Webster. SKYCITY Breakers
Head Coach Paul Henare
Assistant Coaches Pero Cameron, Michael Fitchett
Physio Anousith Bouaaphone
Massage Therapist Shelley Moana Hiha
Doctor Hamish Osborne
Manager Andrew Dewhurst
vs Lebanon in Beirut on 22 February (livestream on www.MaoriTelevision.com 8:30am 23 Feb NZT. And on Maori TV delayed: 11pm, Saturday 23 Feb NZT)
vs Jordan in Amman on 24 February (livestream on www.MaoriTelevision.com 3:30am 25 Feb NZT. And on Te Reo channel, delayed to 8pm Monday 25 Feb NZT)
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
• AWAY: 13 Sep 2018 vs Syria, Nouhad Nawfal Stadium, Lebanon. Tall Blacks won 107-66
• HOME: 17 Sep 2018 vs Lebanon, Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tall Blacks won 63-60
• HOME: 29 Nov 2018 vs Jordan, Horncastle Arena, Christchurch. Tall Blacks won 95-69
• HOME: 2 Dec 2018 vs Syria, TSB Bank Arena, Wellington. Tall Blacks won 97-74
• AWAY: 21 or 22 Feb 2019 vs Lebanon in Lebanon
• AWAY: 24 or 25 Feb 2019 vs Jordan in Jordan
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND TWO
MBO Tall Blacks FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, ROUND ONE
Date | Opponents | Home/Away
• 23 Nov 2017 vs Korea at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington. Tall Blacks lost 80-86
• 26 Nov 2017 vs Hong Kong at Southourn Stadium, Hong Kong. Tall Blacks won 133-74
• 23 Feb 2018 vs China at Dongguan Basketball Centre, China. Tall Blacks won 82-73
• 26 Feb 2018 vs Korea at Jamsil Gymnasium, Seoul, South Korea. Tall Blacks won 93-84
• 28 Jun 2018 vs Hong Kong at Energy Events Centre, Rotorua. Tall Blacks won 124-65
• 1 Jul 2018 vs China vs Spark Arena, Auckland. Tall Blacks won 67-57
• Learn more about the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers (Asia Zone)
• Tall Blacks supporters gear can be purchased here
• Follow the Tall Blacks’ social media channels: @TallBlacks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Hashtags: #TuKaha #TallBlacks #FIBAWC #ThisIsMyHouse
• Tall Blacks website
• Read about Tū Kaha and the Tall Blacks culture
• The games will be broadcast live by the Host Broadcaster, Maori Television
• Watch the Tū Kaha webisode series on the Tall Blacks.