Tall Blacks have one eye on World Cup already

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 11:31 09/07/2014
Kirk Penney
NZPA
IN NEED OF REST: Tall Blacks star Kirk Penney is in need of a break after a tough season in Europe.

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The Tall Blacks want to perform well against Korea in front of a home crowd often starved of international basketball but will have one eye on Spain as they build towards the World Cup.

The squad of 24 is into a second day of trials at Albany, on Auckland's North Shore, today with the 16-man squad for a three-game Korea series to be named tomorrow.

The three games, starting in Wellington next Tuesday, are the first step in the Tall Blacks' preparations for the World Cup, to be held in Spain in August-September.

Coach Nenad Vucinic has signalled the 16-man squad will be a mixture of youth and experience and said he was happy with the depth of talent in all positions.

The team, for the Korea series, will be without the likes of Steven Adams and Rob Loe but may have the services of Alex Pledger who has been sidelined for a number of months after surgery to fix a troublesome right ankle.

Vucinic has also welcomed back Kirk Penney and Tai Webster who have been playing overseas.

Forward/centre Loe, who has been named in the Golden State Warriors' NBA summer league team, tipping off on Saturday in Las Vegas, will miss the Korea series but will join the team soon after.

Vucinic said Penney would take some time to reach form after a "gruelling" season in Europe which only finished in May.

"He is a little bit out of shape, which is expected, and he needs a bit of a break, because he has been battering his body for a couple of decades now so he has had a good rest and he is going to slowly get back into form," he said.

"We are hoping for him to be at his best in Spain, he is probably going to struggle to start with but he is a quality player and a good player and he is really slowly getting into it." 

Vucinic said it was important to get the right mix for the team.

"Obviously it's a very important year, it's a World Cup year. We have done a lot of developing the last four years, we gave a lot of young guys the opportunity to tour with us, to be in the team and this year it's about getting the best possible team.

"I believe there will be some youth in the team."

Vucinic said the absence of Adams, who remains with the Oklahoma City Thunder's NBA summer league team, was lamentable but something the team had to move past.

"The unavailability of Steve is unfortunate because we feel he can really help us and it would be good for him. But that's a decision that they made and we just have to move on."

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He said the team would be focussed on performing at home, but with the World Cup in the back of their minds.

"It's very important for us to perform in front of a New Zealand crowd because we haven't played for a long time at home. It's getting a different team and a different look, but it's also about trying different combinations. A result is important but it is not a primary thing for us."

- Stuff

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