Tall Blacks set for World Cup opener in China

By James Perry

The Tall Blacks face Brazil in their opening pool game at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup tonight in China.

It is their 5th consecutive appearance at the Basketball World Cup, and is the culmination of more than two years of coach Paul Henare's planning.

The Tall Blacks have endured long-distance travel and short turnarounds during the qualification rounds, travelling to the Middle-East and Asia over the past 18 months.

Veteran guard Corey Webster is in the New Zealand team after playing a key role at the last world champs in Spain four years ago, where the Tall Blacks reached the Round of 16. He says there has been an obvious eagerness amongst the squad as the tournament has drawn closer.

“For sure, everyone is a bit excited now and ready to get these games started. We have had a good build-up, played some tough games and grown together as a team, now it is business time. We are ready to go."

Webster says the camaraderie the Tall Blacks have built up over the past two years puts them in a good position as they prepare to take on world number 12 Brazil, whose team includes, NBA players, Cristiano Felicio (Chicago Bulls) and Didi Louzada (Memphis Grizzlies).

“I think the boys have known each other for a long time, so we all have strong relationships, that is an advantage for us. We don’t need to learn each other, we have done that in the past. Everyone has that relaxed side to them, which is Kiwi, but when it is time to lock in at our meetings and training we do, the boys are ready,” Webster said. 

On a personal level, Webster is feeling confident he can not only replicate his world cup performance from five years ago, but can even exceed it.

“This is one of the world’s biggest stages other than the Olympics. I was fortunate enough to play well at the last world’s and I want to do better than that. I am in the prime of my career now, I am injury free, I am fresh and ready to go. I am looking to have a big one, it is going to be good.”

Webster won't be the only one of his family looking forward to tonight's game, younger brother Tai Webster, who is also at his second world cup, will play his 50th game for New Zealand.

Thomas Abercrombie is also set to reach a significant milestone tonight, wearing the black singlet for the 100th time. Basketball New Zealand CEO Iain Potter says. "It's a massive achievement for somebody who has been with the team for many years and starred in many games. It's wonderful to still have him here wanting to put his body on the line for New Zealand."

Tune in to Māori Television for a live broadcast of all of the Tall Blacks World Cup games, with coverage beginning tonight at 8pm.