Rob Loe could just be the tonic Tall Blacks need
Rob Loe's flight from the US landed in Auckland early yesterday and within two hours he was on the practice courts with the Tall Blacks. It's fair to say his 2.08m frame is badly needed.
Nenad Vucinic's New Zealand men's team is in the early stages of preparations for the upcoming World Cup in Spain (August 30-September 14), but already they've been forced into a somewhat of a makeover.
The untimely foot injury to established starting centre Alex Pledger and the unavailability of NBA standout Steven Adams has left Vucinic without a true five man for the Cup campaign. There's still a chance Pledger could make it back in time for Spain - yesterday he told Fairfax Media he would be doing his level best to do so - but Vucinic is planning as though his 2.15m rim protector wouldn't be there.
Pledger's injury has a four to six-week recovery time, and Vucinic said he'd need his crocked big man active within three to consider him. It's a long shot, at best.
Which is where Loe comes in. Fresh off an outstanding four-year career at Saint Louis University, and a stint at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas with the Golden State Warriors, he's now the team's tallest player and likely to split time at centre along with naturalised Kiwis Nick Horvath and Casey Frank.
Loe, a stretch four by inclination, said he's more than happy to play out of position if that's what his country needs.
"I played it in college a little bit, so it's nothing new," he said. "It's a tough blow losing Alex - he's a great player and a great guy for the team. We've just got to rebuild from that I guess.
"But it's really nothing new for us in New Zealand. We've never really had too much size"
Vucinic said using Loe, who has range beyond the three-point line, and his two American-born players who are vying for one spot on the roster for Spain would leave them a little under-sized, but still hopefully competitive against the leading nations.
"We've got to be mobile, we've got to execute really well and we have to be creative and probably a little bit innovative as well, because we really don't have a pure five man," Vucinic said.
"Our pure five is maybe Nick, but he's undersized for that position. We have to be good at things other than height."
Loe, at least, is riding high on confidence after getting called up for summer league duty by Steve Kerr for the Warriors.
"It was a great learning experience," said Loe who played in two of the Warriors' five games, including a nine-point, three-rebound outing in their last hitout against the Milwaukee Bucks. "Any time you're around an NBA team for two weeks, you're bound to learn something. Just soaking it all in was great."
The 22-year-old Aucklander is hoping to use the World Cup campaign as a springboard to a lucrative rookie professional deal in Europe. His UK passport (he was born in England) is invaluable in that respect.
Though he's focused on making his mark in Europe initially, he is also well aware that the Breakers would dearly love to have him back at some stage.
"I would never rule them out," he said. "They've always been great to me and are a great club."
The Tall Blacks fly out on Saturday for two games in Korea, before heading on to China where they will play in two tournaments.
What did you make of the Tall Blacks' World Cup campaign?