Injuries remove selection stress for Tall Blacks
It comes with the territory, but player unavailability usually makes coaches want to tear their hair out.
Nenad Vucinic doesn't have any hair, but even if he did, the Tall Blacks boss probably wouldn't have lost too much sleep last night over the likely unavailability of three players for tonight's series opener against Korea in Wellington.
Casey Frank (calf) and Jarrod Kenny (ankle) are both out with injuries while Tai Webster is also likely to watch from the sidelines, having only arrived in the capital yesterday after a disrupted journey from the United States.
Neither injury is thought to be serious and, with 14 players still available, it makes Vucinic's first selection task slightly simpler as New Zealand takes its first step on the road to Spain for next month's World Cup.
''Realistically you cannot give 14 guys decent court-time so we're only going to suit up 12,'' Vucinic said.
''We're going to rotate throughout the three games, everybody's going to be in the team at some point.''
With point guards Kenny and Tai Webster out, veteran Lindsay Tait will be backed up by Josh Bloxham while National Basketball League MVP Corey Webster may also get a chance to steer the ship.
''This is what preparation games are for, trying players in different positions,'' Vucinic said.
''We've got guys like Isaac [Fotu] that can play three, four and five; and Tai and Corey can play one and two. Most of our bigs can play four and five apart from Alex [Pledger]. There's different combinations to test.''
The Tall Blacks have had just a week to prepare for the world No 31 visitors.
Korea's star is Tae Jong Moon, a 38-year-old naturalised American forward previously known as Jarod Stevenson.
''He's a very good player,'' Vucinic said.
''We've got a lot of video of them from the Asian champs. Well-drilled, execution, shooters, quick, solid defence - nothing special but solid defence. Not a helluva lot of size like we're going to face in the actual tournament but a very good preparation for us.
"They're going to be tough, better at execution because they've been together for longer than us. But we don't want to lose at home.''
Despite being ranked 19th in the world's second biggest sport, the Tall Blacks are traditionally strapped for cash.
But Basketball NZ have been able to put together an extensive warm-up programme for Spain.
After three home tests this week, the Tall Blacks will tour Korea, China, Lithuania and Serbia and will be battle hardened for the August 30 World Cup opener against Turkey in Bilbao.
Their other group C opponents are the Dominican Republic, the United States, Ukraine and Finland.
''It's a process and the first game is going to be a test,'' Vucinic said.
''We want to win at home but our priority is not to do tricks against them to beat them. For example, when we work on our pick and roll defence, maybe it's better for us to switch all the time against them but we won't be able to do that against Finland or Ukraine because they're too big. We have to practise playing our normal pick and roll defence against them [Korea].''
AT A GLANCE
What: Tall Blacks v Korea, first of three tests
Where: TSB Arena, Wellington
When: 7.40 tonight
TV: Live on Sky Sport 1
World rankings: Tall Blacks 19, Korea 31
Tall Blacks: Lindsay Tait, Kirk Penney, Tom Abercrombie, Mika Vukona, Alex Pledger, Corey Webster, Everard Bartlett, Isaac Fotu, BJ Anthony, Nick Horvath, Josh Bloxham, Jack Salt, Tai Wynyard, Tohi Smith-Milner
Korea: Sun Hyung Kim, Dong Geun Yang, Chan Hee Park, Jun Yong Choi, Sung Min Cho, Hee Jong Yang, Jin Soo Choi, Tae Jong Moon, Se Keun Oh, Jong Kyu Kim, Jae Seok Jang, Seoung Hyun Lee, Jong Hyun Lee, Joo Sung Kim
The Dominion Post