22 Feb 2024

Secrecy shrouds Tall Blacks Asia Cup qualifier

1:39 pm on 22 February 2024
Jordan Ngatai of New Zealand.

Jordan Ngatai of New Zealand. Photo: Ben Campbell / Basketball New Zealand

The Tall Blacks' scouting of Chinese Taipei ahead of their Asia Cup qualifier has been hindered by some secrecy from the host nation.

On the eve of the game experienced forward Jordan Ngatai says the New Zealanders haven't seen much of their opposition playing or had any clarity around who might take the court in Taipei on Friday (midnight NZT).

"They're keeping their roster pretty secret so we're just assuming with some of the past games they've had that their playing style and some of the key players will still be part of this [FIBA] window so it's up in the air right now as they haven't put out a roster we can fully dive into."

Chinese Taipei are ranked 78th in the world, 57 places below the Tall Blacks, and FIBA information suggests they will be using a very "green" squad filled with younger players and debutants for this qualification window.

For their part the Tall Blacks have two players - 17-year-old Julius Halaifonua and coach Pero Cameron's son Tobias Cameron - who could make their debut alongside more seasoned campaigners Ngatai, Dion Prewster, Izayah Le'afa, Ethan Rusbatch and Tom Vodanovich.

Some players opted to skip this window due to club commitments but Ngatai who is playing in Finland for Pyrintö Basket did not want to turn down an opportunity to get back around familiar faces and to continue to stay front of mind for the Tall Blacks coaches ahead of a big few months for the team.

"A lot of guys have something to prove not only to themselves but also to the coaches especially with this upcoming Olympic qualifying tournament. But I think also a lot of guys have a chip on their shoulder I know with some of the clubs they are with now they're not getting a whole lot of game time so they're really eager and they just want to come out on the court and play hard.

"I think with the group we have for this specific window I feel like they can get the job done but we can't take any team lightly and I don't think we came in with that mindset we come in with the approach that every game is going to be a tough one and that's what we expect."

The Tall Blacks have had a limited build-up as a full squad for the Asia Cup qualifier but Ngatai isn't worried about the on court chemistry.

New Zealand's Dion Prewster. Tall Blacks

Tall Black Dion Prewster Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"We've all played with each other at some point in time during our careers with the Tall Blacks so it's just trying to familiarise each other with some of the plays."

With a short turnaround between the game in Taipei and Sunday afternoon's game against Hong Kong in Auckland Ngatai is expecting most players to get a run.

"To get both wins is going to be big for us. I know it's going to take a lot of focus...I think it's going to require 12 guys to come and step up no matter what point in the game you get put in I think everyone's going to get a chance to show their talents."

This is the first of three qualification windows for the 2025 FIBA Asia Cup, which will take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from 5-17 August 2025.

The 24 Asia Cup Qualifiers teams are drawn into six groups of four with each team playing the other three teams on a home-and-away basis over three windows, with two games per window.

The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Asia Cup, making a total of 12 teams.

The six third-placed teams from each group, meanwhile, qualify to play in a final qualifying tournament. The top four teams from this competition will take the remaining spots of the Asia Cup.

The Tall Blacks squad for window one: Taylor Britt, Walter Brown, Tobias Cameron, Max Darling, Dan Fotu, Julius Halaifonua, Tyrell Harrison, Izayah Le'afa, Alex McNaught, Jordan Ngatai, Dion Prewster, Ethan Rusbatch, Sam Timmins and Tom Vodanovich.