The Guam men's basketball team are excited to test themselves against some of the region's best but admit it will be a matter of "survival" during next month's FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.
The US territory defended their Pacific Games gold medal in Samoa last year but head coach EJ Calvo's side will face a much sterner challenge against Hong Kong (ranked 106 in the world), New Zealand (No. 24) and Australia (No. 3), who finished fourth at last year's World Cup.
"Ten years ago we were primarily focused on just the Pacific Island competitions. The Pacific Games has been kind of our main focus in competing with other Pacific islands and we've always done fairly well," he said.
"Within the last six or seven years we started really being successful. [We've] seen success against the Pacific Islands more and more and got more opportunities to play against teams in FIBA Asia, more opportunities to play against international teams and now it's just a matter of us trying to figure out how to continue climbing the ladder."
Guam has named an extended squad for its campaign next month, but are expected to announce a final team by the end of the week.
The 24-man roster features the core group of players which helped defend their Pacific Games title in Samoa last year and dominated the Eastern Region Pre-Qualifiers in 2018, including Earnest Ross, Curtis Washington, as well as the Wesley brothers, Tai, Russ, and Mekeli.
All-around guard Daren Hechanova and NCAA Division 1 standout with the UC Irvine Anteaters Jonathan Galloway have also been named while some of the younger players, including Takumi Simon, Tomas Calvo, and Michael Min, may also have the opportunity to come up against some of the world's best players.
"The 24 names have been the names we've been focused on for a while and we're in the final stages of confirming who will actually compete in February," Calvo said.
"There's a couple of names there I'm sure have been heard before by our competitors and might have played against each other so I'm pretty excited to have them join the team and try to pull together a national programme."
Twenty-four teams are vying for 16 slots in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup which doubles as a qualifying tournament for the 2023 Basketball World Cup.
Guam will open its campaign away to Hong Kong on 20 February before hosting New Zealand three days later and Calvo said it was a daunting prospect.
"It's very exciting and I would say this is a big test just to kind of see where we're at and I think after this qualification round we'll be able to look forward and say 'okay what else do we need to do to strive for new heights'," he said.
"We are taking it one game at a time and in terms of this first round it's a matter of survival. We know that we don't want to finish last place in this Pool, so we have a fair shot to win a couple games and survive and advance to the next round."
While the Tall Blacks and Boomers will be rivals on the court, Calvo said the experience some of the Guam players received playing in New Zealand and Australian-based teams had played a key role in their development.
He hoped more players of Pacific descent were given the opportunity to compete in the National Basketball League.
"We really hope that more Pacific Islanders get opportunities to play in those leagues...but the opportunity given to some of the Guam players and the junior players - it's been a really great opportunity to raise the level of basketball in the Pacific over the last 10 years," he said.
"It's going to be great for some of these guys to compete against the national programme and to play against some of the best."
Guam extended squad:
Billy Belger, Joe Blas, Ben Borja, Ollie Bradley, Tomas Calvo, AJ Carlos, Chris Conner, Jericho Cruz, JP Cruz, Matt Fergurgur, Jonathan Galloway, Daren Hechanova, Mark Johnson, Earvin Jose, Michael Min, Mike Quan, Earnest Ross, Mike Sakazaki, Takumi Simon, Willie Stinnett, Curtis Washington, Mekeli Wesley, Russ Wesley, Tai Wesley.