25 August, 2023
10 September
Pero Cameron (NZL), 1st QTR
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Qualified Team Focus - New Zealand: Tall Blacks dream of another 2002 magical run

MIES (Switzerland) - The draw for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 will be held in Manila, Philippines, on April 29. It is now time to meet the 32 teams that try to become World Champions in a few months.

After Spain and Australia, France, Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece, Italy, Germany, Canada and Finland next up and next up up is the number 26 team in the FIBA World Ranking Men, presented by Nike, 2002 World Cup Semi-Finalists and FIBA AsiaCup 2022 third place finishers New Zealand .


How did they qualify

New Zealand went into the Asian Qualifiers having finished 19th at the 2019 World Cup. Before they started the qualification campaign, the Tall Blacks made a coaching change with legendary player Pero Cameron making the jump from assistant coach of eight years to replace Paul Henare.

And in the end, New Zealand locked up their spot in Indonesia, Japan and Philippines in August 2022 with two windows to spare. 

Rob Loe and Tom Vodanovich

Cameron and his troops had to wait until the second window in February 2022 to begin their quest. And the Tall Blacks were dominant in a bubble in Philippines, beating India by 55 points and then knocking off Philippines by 25 points before racing past India a second time by 35 points in Group A.

Rob Loe and Tom Vodanovich were outstanding in the first set of games: Loe collecting three double-doubles and Vodanovic leading the team all three games in scoring with 20 or more points each time and collecting two double-doubles.

The 2023 Asian Qualifiers campaign also gave the New Zealand fans a chance to finally see their beloved Tall Blacks again. New Zealand's 106-46 win over Philippines on June 30, 2022 in Auckland was the first time the team played on home soil since beating Syria 97-74 in Wellington on December 2, 2018 in the 2019 Qualifiers.

The FIBA Asia Cup 2022 followed and Cameron took a very young team to Indonesia with six players 23 years or younger and none older than 26. The Tall Blacks lost to Australia in the Semi-Finals and then beat Jordan for third place.

Cameron and co. returned to the Asian Qualifiers in August 2022 and collected a 15-point win at Saudi Arabia and then defeated Jordan 100-72 in Auckland. The Tall Blacks had to wait until later in the day when Philippines beat Saudi Arabia to confirm New Zealand's return to the World Cup.

Having already locked up qualification, Cameron brought a squad of youngsters and others he wanted to test for the November 2022 window. The inexperience was too much as New Zealand lost two road games against veteran teams - by 12 points at Lebanon and by 17 points at Jordan.

Ethan Rusbatch

Cameron has used the Qualifiers to really see a lot of different players, with 30 different players appearing in games. Ethan Rusbatch is the only one to play in all eight games while Taylor Britt and Hyrum Harris have gotten into six games.

Best result at the World Cup

New Zealand will be playing at the World Cup for the seventh time and the sixth time in a row. After debuting in 1986, the Tall Blacks - led by the core of Pero Cameron, Sean Marks, Kirk Penney, Mark Dickel, Phil Jones, Paul Henare and Dillon Boucher - captured the imagination of the world in 2002 in Indianapolis.

They beat Venezuela and Russia to reach the Second Round and then knocked off China to advance to the knockout stage. The Tall Blacks beat Puerto Rico 65-63 in the Quarter-Finals to reach the top four - the country's best-ever showing.

New Zealand lost to Yugoslavia in the Semi-Finals and then were beaten by Germany in the 3rd Place Game. Still, New Zealand basketball fans will forever remember the run in 2002.


Last World Cup appearances

Since reaching the Semi-Finals in 2002, the Oceania side has failed to repeat the magic. They advanced from the group stage in 2006 but lost to Argentina in the Round of 16. In 2010, New Zealand defeated Lebanon, Canada and France in the group stage but then were upended by Russia in the Round of 16, ending up in 12th place.

New Zealand once again passed through the opening group stage in 2014 - beating Ukraine and Finland for a 2-3 record. The Round of 16 however once again was the Tall Blacks' exit as they lost to Lithuania 76-71.

At China 2019, New Zealand lost the opening game to Brazil before beating Montenegro. The Tall Blacks fell to Greece to miss out on the Second Round, heading instead to the 17th-32nd Classification, where they beat Japan and Turkey to finish 19th.

Players to watch

Key members of New Zealand Tall Blacks that averaged a FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019-best 99.4 points per game are on the shortened preliminary list of players for this year's main event.

Isaac Fotu, Shea Ili, Finn Delany, Tohi Smith-Milner, and Jordan Ngatai, all played in China and are in the squad. Fotu was the second-leading scorer for the Tall Blacks in 2019 with 18.4 points per game.

In addition to Smith-Milner, other members of last year's FIBA Asia Cup team named in the squad are Flynn Cameron, Hyrum Harris, Sam Timmins, and Taylor Britt. The team went all the way through to the Semi-Finals before finishing on the podium at third place.

The 1.90m (6'3") point guard Flynn Cameron, son of New Zealand coach and legend Pero, led the Tall Blacks in scoring at the Asia Cup and nearly had a triple-double against Korea in the Quarter-Finals. He had 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in that game.

Players with little or no Tall Blacks experience that have been named are Yanni Wetzell, who spent last season with Alba Berlin in Germany. Walter Brown (Canterbury Rams/Tasmania Jackjumpers), Izayah Le’Afa (Wellington Saints / NZ Breakers) and Dan Fotu (Franklin Bulls / NZ Breakers) are the others on the roster.

Wetzell is intriguing. Having played tennis, rugby, and basketball as a young teen, he elected to concentrate on tennis but following a growth spurt, he switched to basketball in high school and then ended up pursuing the sport via the college basketball route in the USA.

The 2.08m (6'10") big man played for St Mary's in NCAA Division II before transferring to Vanderbilt and then moving to San Diego State to finish his collegiate career. In the German BBL this season, he averaged 9.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game.