17 February, 2020
28 August, 2021
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Pride of ''bleeding the black'' prevails for undefeated New Zealand

QUEENSLAND (Australia) - Pero Cameron was nervous.

He's stepped on to the court for big games multiple times as a member of the Tall Blacks. However, this was his first time doing so as a national team head coach. You can't blame him for feeling a bit anxious.

"Oh man, so nervous," Cameron admitted after completing his first game. "I mean, there's been a first for everything."

"I think we got in only four training sessions, and there wasn't a lot of sleep."

Sleepless nights didn't seem to bother New Zealand much throughout their entire road trip to start the Asia Cup Qualifiers. Even though they fell behind early in their opening game against Australia, the Tall Blacks fought back to win, 108-98.

It was their first win against the Boomers in over a decade.

Not a bad coaching debut for Cameron, and he knew where the credit should have been directed.

"I just have to take my hat off to the boys to put their hand in and bleed the black," he proudly said during the post-game press conference. "Just so proud of the win, the whole 3-4 days has been crazy. It's awesome to come out with the win."

Everyone on the team put in their efforts through both games of the first window. Even on the scoreboard, nearly all members of the team chipped in with their contribution.

All nine fielded players scored against Australia, highlighted by six players who scored in double-digits. It was another well-balanced effort against Guam as well, with only 17-year-old Taine Murray left scoreless in that win.

New Zealand came together as one and won together as a team banded together under one color.

"I just want to congratulate them," Cameron said of his team. "acknowledge their commitment and their support to the black singlet."

Cameron was without some of New Zealand stars and key players from the World Cup for this first window. Whether it was the Webster brothers or Isaac Fotu, there is no doubt that fans would have liked to see them play in the first window.

They didn't.

And it didn't matter.

The perimeter trio of Shea Ili, Reuben Te Rangi, and Jordan Ngatai was all the force New Zealand needed in these first two games, doing a little bit of everything and shooting the lights out on their way to wins.

Ili shined brightest with 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 3.0 steals per game, proving again that he deserved his All-Star Five nod from Asia Cup 2017.

Te Rangi and Ngatai weren't too far behind. The former racked up 19 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per contest while the latter added 16.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

The three combined for 18 of New Zealand's 28 three-pointers, knocking those long bombs down at an impressive rate of 50.0 percent.

The Boomers might lack some of their stars, but all that matters is that those who played put in their best efforts.

"Both teams were missing a lot of players, but it doesn't matter," said Cameron, also referring to some of the unavailable Boomers. "We played. You could see how hard they were playing, and it pressed the issue towards the end."

"As much as we like to bleed black and wear our jersey, we can tell they also play with pride. You know [Jason] Cadee and [Cam] Gliddon played hard and also Hodgee [Matthew Hodgson] and the new guys, they played really hard."

The dust has settled. After his first two games as head coach of the New Zealand national team, Pero Cameron remains undefeated.

More than the wins, just being there on the sidelines is enough for the FIBA Hall of Famer.

"As far as the job, I am happy to be here," Cameron said. "For anyone, coaching their own country, it's an amazing, good feeling."