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Can New Zealand recreate historic World Cup run?
MANILA (Enzo Flojo's Asia on My Mind) – New Zealand are not going to be among the traditional favorites at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, but that won't stop them from trying to spring some surprises.
The Tall Blacks were drawn into Group F together with Brazil and European sides Greece and Montenegro. New Zealand are the lowest ranked team in this group based on the latest FIBA World Rankings presented by Nike. The Tall Blacks are ranked 38th, which is 10 spots lower than Montenegro, who are 28th. Hellas are the highest ranked team in this group at 8th followed by the Brazilians at 12th. Needless to say, New Zealand have their work cut out for them in this group, and they'll be hard-pressed to advance to the second round.
Judging by how they played in the Asian Qualifiers, however, one should not easily discount the Tall Blacks. Coach Paul Henare steered the Kiwis to an enviable 10-win, 2-loss record in the Asian Qualifiers, enabling them to secure qualification even before the final window began.
And to think that the Tall Blacks were rarely at full strength at the Asian Qualifiers, too. Only Rob Loe and Jarrod Kenny were able to play in all 12 matches for New Zealand, with big names like Isaac Fotu, the Webster brothers and Thomas Abercrombie missing a combined 19 games. NBA big man Steven Adams also didn't suit up in any Qualifiers fixture, though he has opened up the possibility of donning the black kit in China.
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🏀🔥 Our @tallblacks gap to China soon & YES we’ll be live streaming and broadcasting the draw for the FIBA WORLD CUP on March 16 2019 & all the games to follow 👀 Catch up on Tū Kaha to see what the boys get up to behind the scenes.. ON DEMAND 🏀🔥 Link in bio 🏀🔥 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #TūKaha #WebisodeSeries #BasketballNZ #TallBlacks #Haka #FIBA #Basketball #China
At their deepest, coach Henare's roster could be bannered by Fotu and Tai Webster, who ply their trade in Europe, together with NBL standouts Corey Webster and Abercrombie, in addition to Adams, who's considered one of the best blue collar centers in the NBA.
Should that be the case, then we may not have seen the best yet from the Tall Blacks, who can potentially pull the rug from under their more ballyhooed opposition in Group F.
It wouldn't be the first time, too, especially given New Zealand's history of being able to run the gauntlet and famously making it all the way to the World Cup Semi-Final back in 2002. There is obviously nobody left from that historic team, but given New Zealand's impressive showing in the Asian Qualifiers and their record of consistently finishing among the top 16 teams in the last 4 World Cups.
I'd be the first to tell you that New Zealand's chances of making a big splash in China aren't very high, but that's exactly the kind of position in which they want to find themselves. Coach Henare has a very balanced team in terms of size, skill and experience, and the Tall Blacks will always be among the most dangerous teams in the entire competition.
Do the team have enough to replicate their miraculous run in 2002? That would be extremely difficult, especially given the talent level expected to show up in China, but heck, nobody expected them to do what they did 17 years ago, so it wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine they can make lightning strike twice, eh?
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Of course, the Tall Blacks' collective fortunes heavily depend on whether they'll be at full strength or not. If Adams suits up and plays as well as we know he can together with good showings from the Websters brothers, Abercrombie and Fotu, then anything can happen. Don't put it past the Kiwis to slip past Montenegro and even challenge Brazil and Greece. Beyond that, well, your guess is as good as mine.
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