25 August, 2023
10 September
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Corey Webster reflects on New Zealand's tough group

CAIRO (Egypt) - When New Zealand guard Corey Webster learned of their opponents in the Group Phase of the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup his first reaction was that it was "a tough one," but not impossible to come up with historical results.

The Tall Blacks will play their Group C campaign in Manila against Greece, Jordan, and USA. 

"The World Cup is the pinnacle of basketball. As long as I can walk, run and shoot, I'm trying to keep playing."

Webster, who is chasing his third straight World Cup appearance felt the time is now.

New Zealand finished fourth at the 2002 World Cup, but haven't been able to replicate that success since.

"We are trying to get back to that level," Webster said in an exclusive interview with FIBA.basketball in Cairo while he was playing for Egypt giants Al Ahly during the Basketball Africa League (BAL).

This year's World Cup marks New Zealand's seventh straight appearance in the history of the tournament

"We feel like we have the players this year to get back to that level. In the last two World Cups, we made it to the Second Round. We haven’t gone further than that, but we feel like we just missed a couple of pieces."

"Now we can possibly get those pieces. We feel like we can make it to higher ranks and compete with those teams. Hopefully, we can make one step further," he pointed out.

One of New Zealand's missing pieces, Webster said, could be Steven Adams who has yet to suit up for his country at senior level.

Adams currently plays for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA.

"I understand he has a knee injury, but he's doing his rehab. If he joins, that will change our team a lot. Other than that I think we have a similar team. We have played together for many years and that's one advantage that we have."

"We know each other. We are like brothers, we are like a family. We don't need to take that time to gel together as a group because we have played together for so long. We need to take that into the tournament and just go in with confidence."

Asked to reflect on New Zealand's Group C opponents, Webster admitted the challenges they face: "It’s going to be tough. It’s a tough draw. We are the only pool with two top ten teams," he replied.

New Zealand faced the USA at the 2014 World Cup in Spain

No. 26 in the FIBA Rankings presented by NIKE, New Zealand will be put to the test against No.2 USA, No.9 Greece, and No.33 Jordan.

"It's a huge challenge for us. But we always play hard. We are always the underdogs. We have beaten some big teams in the past. In the last World Cup, we beat Turkey. We had a big win over Japan. We competed against these big teams. We are just going over there, trying to be confident and play our game. [At the] last World Cup, we only lost to Greece by [six] points. We pushed them. We can compete with these teams."

"Obviously, USA is going to be a huge challenge, but if we can try and get a win over Jordan and Greece, we'll possibly move on to the next round."

Webster led New Zealand in scoring in his World Cup debut in 2014, averaging a team-high of 13.7 points per game. 

In 2019, in China, Webster was New Zealand's primary scorer, averaging 22.8 points per game but the Tall Blacks came short of the Quarter-Finals.

Corey Webster had a 11 for 18 shooting, including 7 of 12 from long-range, to finish with a game-high 31 points in a 103-97 loss to Greece

To replicate New Zealand's wins from the 2019 World Cup, Webster insisted they "need to be on our A-game."

"These teams got some huge players, some of the best players in the world. Greece with the Antetoukoumpo brothers."

Webster played only one game during the World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers, but his motivation to keep playing for the Tall Blacks remains high, he says.

"The World Cup is the pinnacle of basketball. It's the best basketball tournament to be a part of. I have been fortunate to have gone to two World Cups, and I played well. I just love basketball. As long as I can walk, run and shoot, I'm trying to keep playing."

"Soon will come a time when I'll need to pass that position onto one of the younger guys. While I feel I can contribute to the team itself, I am going to be there. It's an honor to represent your country at that level. I wear that flag with pride. I just go into there looking at it as a blessing."

Throughout the World Cup Asian Qualifiers, New Zealand faced India, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon, finishing with an 8-2 record.  

Webster said their 8-2 in the Qualifiers reflected the "quality team" they are.

"We have players that play all around the world: in Europe, Japan and Australia. Hopefully, Steven will bring that NBA experience. We have a good mix of guys who play a high level of basketball."

New Zealand closed their 2019 World Cup with a 102-101 win over Turkey

And what kind of team is New Zealand? 

"We play very fast. We are an up-tempo team, which is a bit different from a lot of the teams in the international circle; a lot of them slow the game down and play half-court game. We decided that we need to do something different to compete with these teams that may have bigger players, more athletic players, stuff like that. We kind of switched that out from what we used to be. We play very fast. I think in the last World Cup we were the team who got the most shots per game. I think we ended up leading the tournament in scoring per game although we missed out on getting to the Quarter-Finals. But we still had a great tournament. We play hard. We are hungry."

"Obviously we are going to a lot of these games as the underdogs; we've got nothing to lose. We just go out there and play hard; we compete for every possession, and we play together," Webster emphasised.