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

The biggest question for many years with New Zealand has been if Steven Adams will be playing. For nearly a decade, Pero Cameron as either assistant coach or head coach has not had the services of the NBA big man.

So the tactician is probably making two sets of plans: with Adams and without Adams. The Tall Blacks have a strong core even without the center.

Corey Webster has been a leader for some time - the last few years with his brother Tai Webster as well - while Finn Delany and Yanni Wetzell are both shining in Europe this season. Cameron's son Flynn Cameron was one of the main players at the FIBA Asia Cup 2022 and Tom Vodanovich and Rob Loe were leaders during the Asian Qualifiers.

Not to be forgotten in the fight to fill out the roster are the likes of Thomas Abercrombie, Isaac Fotu, Dion Prewster, Tohi Smith-Milner, Ethan Rusbatch, Kruz Perrott-Hunt, Shea Ili, Taylor Britt, Hyrum Harris, Jordan Ngatai, Sam Timmins, Reuben Te Rangi, Ben Gold and Sam Waardenburg.