Tall Blacks face 'big man crisis' at World Cup

Last updated 13:44 20/07/2014
Alex Pledger
BIG MAN: Tall Blacks centre Alex Pledger is out of action for up to six weeks with an ankle injury.
Steven Adams
USA Today Sports

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Nenad Vucinic won't be calling Oklahoma City Thunder begging for Steven Adams to be released for international duty, despite a "big man crisis" ahead of the World Cup.

With starting centre Alex Pledger now unlikely to make the tournament in Spain in August, the Thunder's refusal to allow 21-year-old Adams hurts a New Zealand team forced into "small-ball" mode.

Vucinic confirmed that Pledger, his only legitimate centre, would be out for up to six weeks with a torn tendon in his foot. He sustained the injury in the the defeat in Tauranga on Thursday.

That, admitted the coach, put the 2.15m big man in serious doubt for Spain and left him contemplating the very real possibility of heading into the global tournament without a true low-post presence.

"It's a big blow," Vucinic said.

"Where to now? It's going to take him a long time to get back into some kind of form to be able contribute. But who knows, it might be earlier. If he's OK and if we feel it's going to be beneficial for us to bring him back, we'll do it."

Vucinic said he would give Pledger every chance to prove his readiness for Spain. But it would require a miraculous recovery for Pledger, who missed half of the Australian NBL season due to ankle surgery.

Vucinic would not be making another call to the Thunder to beg for the release of Adams.

"We have made enough calls," Vucinic said.

"It seems like the decision is he's not going to be involved and that's the way it is. Who knows, maybe we'll get a phone call [from them], but it's unlikely.

"He's a great player, and has shown he would add a lot to our team. But it is what it is, he's not there and you've got to deal without him."

Vucinic today named a squad of 14 to tour Korea and China, then Lithuania and Serbia to prepare for the World Cup. Auckland schoolboy Tai Wynyard, 16, who became the youngest ever Tall Black during the South Korea series, has been selected.

The return of the 2.10m Rob Loe from NBA summer league duties in Las Vegas partially addresses the height crisis, though the former University of Saint Louis player could by no means be considered a true centre.

The Tall Blacks will also take two American-born players, 36-year-old Waikato Pistons forward Casey Frank and 33-year-old Manawatu Jets centre Nick Horvath on tour. Only one can be selected in the final squad of 12 for the World Cup.

Vucinic omitted youngsters Jack Salt, Tohi Smith-Milner and Josh Bloxham from his 17-strong squad for the Korean series, with Pledger's defection creating the opening for Wynyard, the son of world wood chopping champion Jason Wynyard.

After Saturday night's victory, led by a game-high 26 points from Kirk Penney, Vucinic said a 2-1 series win over the well organised South Koreans had created a clear picture of where his squad was at.

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"It was a very tough series and exactly what we needed," the coach said.

His challenge now is a familiar one: How to make the not-so-tall Tall Blacks competitive against the giants of the global game.

Tall Blacks squad to travel to Korea, China, Lithuania and Serbia: Thomas Abercrombie, Benny Anthony, Everard Bartlett, Isaac Fotu, Casey Frank, Nick Horvath, Jarrod Kenny,  Robert Loe, Kirk Penney, Lindsay Tait, Mika Vukona, Corey Webster, Tai Webster, Tai Wynyard.

- Stuff


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