22 Aug 2023

The unexpected awaits Tall Blacks star

7:15 am on 22 August 2023
Tall Blacks Reuben Te Rangi (L) with Lebanon's Ali Mansour during World Cup qualifying 2023.

Tall Black Reuben Te Rangi will be heading to his first Basketball World Cup this week. Photo: Photosport

Cruelly ruled out of the last Basketball World Cup through injury Tall Blacks captain Reuben Te Rangi admits he's still figuring out what to expect from this year's global showpiece.

The forward is one of the Tall Blacks most experienced players after making his senior debut for New Zealand in 2013 but he's never played in his sport's pinnacle event.

"I feel like everyone's been there, done that, but I'm like the new kid on the block excited to play in the World Cup and have fun out there," Te Rangi says.

"Our team's quite young, I think Shea's [Ili the oldest at 30 which is pretty crazy when we used to be the young guys on the team. I'm quite new to this World Cup stuff but we're building in the same direction and I guess we're all learning at the same time."

The retirements of forward Tom Abercrombie and centre Rob Loe means opportunities for new players to take on key roles for New Zealand against USA, Jordan and Greece in Group C of the tournament which tips off on Friday.

For Te Rangi the prospect of playing against two top-10 sides (world no. 2 USA and and no.9 Greece) is a challenge he can't wait to take on.

The Tall Blacks open their tournament with what could be their toughest test against USA on Sunday and Te Rangi says they are planning on "taking a swing" against the Americans.

"I think that's probably the most exciting thing about our run in the World Cup is we get to play the best of the best.

"We could stand across the court from some of the best players in the world and whatever happens happens and if things pan out, then we're going to be having a good time."

Jordan, ranked 33rd in the world to New Zealand's 26th, is seen a must win game by Te Rangi.

The Tall Blacks have had a mixed build-up to the World Cup with big wins, big loss and close wins and a close loss as they took on Japan, Canada, Italy and China national teams and a China club side in warm up games.

A one-point loss to China was a game that taught the Tall Blacks the most Te Rangi says about how to deal with lower-ranked opposition in close games.

"After that China game, we marked down a few things that we need to work on to make sure we don't replicate that game again. And that's probably going to be the game against Jordan. We got to make sure we win that game and then those other two games, we're trying to knock one of them off."

Tall Blacks perform the haka

Tall Blacks perform the haka at the 2019 World Cup. Photo: Photosport

The Tall Blacks finished in 19th place at the 2019 World Cup in China which is a result the current roster recognises needs to be improved on.

"We talked about a few of those things quite early in our campaign and where they fell short and what we need to do to be better than that team.

"I watched from afar [in 2019] and went down to Sydney to watch them play against Canada [in a World Cup warm up game] and then to see the growth from that game to some of the games of the World Cup was amazing. So we're trying to replicate that a little bit but also add a little bit of our touch onto it."

The World Cup is being jointly hosted by three countries - the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia - with the Tall Blacks to be based in Manila.

Taking the court in "basketball crazy" Manila in front of fans eager to see what the world's best can do Te Rangi says will add to his maiden World Cup experience.