“Undermanned” for the World Cup, Basketball New Zealand now expects all fit players to put their hand up to help qualify for the Paris Olympics.
Basketball Olympians were rare among New Zealand athletes.
If the Tall Blacks qualified for next year’s Olympics it would mark 20 years since the New Zealand men were last part of the global tournament.
The Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns were both part of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics before the women qualified again for the 2008 Games.
Basketball New Zealand CEO Dillon Boucher fulfilled his own childhood Olympic dream in 2004 and knew others held the same aspirations. Which was why he expected players to show up for the Olympic qualifying tournaments for the Tall Ferns in February and the Tall Blacks in July.
Boucher ranked the Olympics on par with the FIBA World Cup and said BBNZ took the Olympics very seriously despite the organisation considering not participating in qualification for the last Games due to financial constraints.
The Tall Blacks secured a spot in one of four Paris Olympics qualifying tournaments off the back of a 22nd place finish at the FIBA World Cup in the Philippines in September.
“We were a little bit undermanned going into that tournament, had a few injuries a few guys weren’t available for that campaign, which had we had those guys available would the results be different? It’s hard to be able to judge that but I thought the guys that were there did extremely well,” Boucher said.
Boucher hoped to have the best players available for next year’s tournaments.
“We don’t get to go to the Olympics unless we win this event from a Tall Blacks point of view, so all the eggs will be put in that basket to be able to try and qualify because there’s no tomorrow if the team doesn’t qualify through.”
Among the players missing at the World Cup was NBA player Steven Adams.
Boucher was unsure if the Tall Blacks had missed out on the best of the 30-year-old Memphis Grizzlies centre.
BBNZ hinted ahead of this year’s World Cup they were the closest they had ever been to getting Adams in a Tall Blacks singlet.
However Adams’ 2022-23 NBA campaign with the Grizzlies was cut short due to a knee injury making him unavailable for the World Cup.
Adams was also currently sitting out the 2023-24 NBA season after surgery on his posterior cruciate ligament.
“It’ll be interesting to see how he goes after he recovers from his current knee surgery to see what form he’s going to be in but you never know, I mean, he’s not old he’s certainly right in his prime and particularly bigs they always seem to be in their prime a little bit later in their career.
“So I don’t necessarily think we’ve missed him in his prime I think there’s an opportunity if he rehabs back from his knee injury, that he’ll be as good as he is now, if not continue to get better so we’re still optimistic that he one day will pull on a Tall Blacks jersey.”
The experienced Webster brothers – Corey and Tai – were late withdrawls from the World Cup squad after missing a training camp. Whether they would be available for future Tall Blacks appearances was unclear.
“A lot will depend on whether their situation’s changed and what they disclosed with the coaches and the high performance general manager before they went as long as those situations and the reasons they gave have changed, then we’d expect they will be available.
“I know Corey Webster, for example, is out injured at the moment with Perth so depending on how his body is, whether he would make himself available or not a lot of that will come down to the health of his body. But I imagine these guys are all competitors, they all want to go to an Olympic Games so if their bodies allow them and they’re able to go I imagine they will be putting their hand up.”
After the international retirements of some long-time players and uncertainty around the availability of some other experienced players Boucher was optimistic about the quality of potential future rosters.
“We’ve got a lot of young talent at the moment out there that are definitely on NBA radars that we are confident that someone will break the ceiling again and be able to make it into the NBA.
“Will they have the impact in the NBA that Steven’s having remains to be seen, obviously once they get there. We work closely with the NBA in a lot of our junior programmes and we know there are a lot of players on that radar as there are with the female side of the game with our junior athletes going through to the WNBA as well.
“So we are going to keep facilitating these pathways for these athletes to be able to be recognized and hopefully someone will again break through to the NBA or the WNBA in the near future and if they can have a career like Steven Adams has had that would be fantastic for New Zealand basketball to be able to carry it on.”
The Tall Ferns’ Olympic qualifying tournament is in China where they will need to avoid finishing last in a tournament that includes the hosts, France and Puerto Rico to qualify for Paris.
Boucher expected the squad to be made up of players coming back from WNBL in Australia and from playing college basketball in America.
The Tall Ferns had some top talent to call on but Boucher was also aware of keeping women interested in pursing basketball to grow depth.
Parris Mason who made her Tall Ferns debut earlier this year at the Asia Cup has now moved to the Silver Ferns development squad and Paris Lokotui who played in the domestic basketball competition and age-group representative basketball has been named in the 2023-24 Silver Ferns squad.
Basketball could offer opportunities for the Olympics and college scholarships in America which netball could not.
“An athlete will generally choose the pathway that they think best suits them. So some of the female athletes that we’ve got coming through now are top netballers as well as basketballers do they see a better opportunity in basketball or netball?
“So for us, it’s about creating those opportunities for those athletes, for example, we’ve got a lot of our top female athletes that go across and go to the States on a four year scholarship, paid education for four years and come back with a college degree. Netball doesn’t have that offering so for basketball, that’s a big, big upside.
“But probably where netball is at from a financial standpoint, for junior teams is probably a little bit more advanced than where basketball is right now.
“But certainly we’re working hard on that side of the game and to be able to make sure that you’re not choosing a sport because of financial reasons. We want to make sure we take the financial things out and it just becomes a choice of do I want to be a top netball player or to be a top basketball player and that’s the path I’ll choose.”