05 - 10
July 2016
9 Corey WEBSTER (New Zealand)
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New Zealand make final cuts as 12-man roster set for Manila OQT

WELLINGTON (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) - New Zealand coach Paul Henare had to make the difficult choice to cut Finn Delany and Ethan Rusbatch to form the final 12-man roster that will represent the country at the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Manila from 5-10 July.

Henare made the decision after the Tall Blacks' run at the Atlas Challenge in China and before their departure for Latvia for the last leg of their preparations before flying to the Philippines for the OQT.

    New Zealand 12-player roster for 2016 FIBA OQT in Manila
 Tom Abercrombie  BJ Anthony  Everard Bartlett  Isaac Fotu
 Shea Ili  Michael Karena  Rob Loe  Jordan Ngatai
 Derone Raukawa  Mika Vukona  Corey Webster  Tai Webster

Not surprisingly, Everard Bartlett, Mika Vukona, Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie, BJ Anthony, Isaac Fotu, Tai Webster and Rob Loe - all veterans of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup - made the team. Without a doubt, they will make up the backbone of this team and ensure they enter the Manila OQT joust with a lot of depth and experience.

Vukona is easily the most seasoned player on this team and his leadership will be crucial as the Tall Blacks try to ambush European powerhouse France and hometown bet Philippines in the group stage. After him, it's Abercrombie, Bartlett, Webster and Anthony who are expected to be this team's spearheads, along with budding star Fotu.

Vukona impressed at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, averaging 7.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, while Webster led the squad in scoring with 13.7 points per contest on the strength of 31.4 percent three-point shooting. In Australia's 2015-16 NBL season, Webster was the fourth-best scorer while Vukona was among the 10 best rebounders. As such, France and tournament hosts Gilas Pilipinas would do well to make sure they are marked men in the OQT.

Vukona's health has a bit of a question mark as he absorbed a strong hit to the head courtesy of a Chinese player in the Atlas Challenge, but Henare believes the 34-year-old will be ready and raring to go in Manila. That, of course, is a very good sign for a team feeling good about their chances of making a splash.

"The feel in this group is good," Henare said. "They have worked superbly over the short time we have had together, everyone knows the road we are on and the lofty goal we have set for ourselves, but in true Tall Black style we are working hard and have each other's backs as we pursue our Olympic dream."

Only the top two teams from New Zealand’s group will advance to the Semi-Finals against the top two teams from the other group that features Turkey, Senegal and Canada. The Semi-Final winners will square off for the competition's lone ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Perhaps the two surprises in this pool are youngsters Derone Raukawa and Mike Karena, both of whom have donned the Kiwis’ colors in FIBA youth competitions in the past. Raukawa last played in the 2012 FIBA Oceania U18 Championship, while Karena last represented the country in the 2009 FIBA Oceania U16 tourney and in the 3x3 tournament of the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Despite their relative inexperience, they have thoroughly impressed coach Henare, who expects both young guns to make an impact for the Tall Blacks.

Both have immersed themselves in the culture of this team and most importantly, both have shown they have a genuine contribution to make to the team on the floor and can find ways to make us better. - Paul Henare

For sure, New Zealand will play with pride as they showcase their wares in Manila against top-flight competition, but the big question is can these Tall Blacks, despite the international retirement of Lindsay Tait and the withdrawal of Jarrod Kenny due to a stomach problem, earn their tickets to the Olympics, where they last played in 2004.

Henare, for his part, doesn't flinch with his response.

"I have no doubt we can achieve it," he said. "And that these young men will do themselves, their families and the game of basketball in New Zealand proud."

The Tall Blacks first play the Philippines on July 6 and then face off against France on July 7.