Casey Frank, Horvath vie for a Tall Blacks spot
It's as well Casey Frank and Nick Horvath get along, for theirs is a combustible sort of dynamic in this World Cup-bound Tall Blacks squad.
The pair of New Zealand-domiciled Americans have found their way into Nenad Vucinic's 14-strong squad that embarks tonight on a 13-game tour leading into the World Cup in Spain from August 30-September 14.
But that's where their comfort levels end. Under Fiba rules covering naturalised players only one can feature in Spain. Vucinic makes no bones that they're basically playing World Cup Idol over the next 13 games, and may the best man win.
It's an interesting situation because there is so much similar about these team-mates on the 2010 championship-winning Saints team.
They're both in their 30s (Frank is 36, Horvath 30), both are smart cookies (Horvath went to Duke and is now a physics teacher at Palmerston North Boys High; Frank has just finished his MBA), both play the same position, are of comparable stature (Horvath 2.08m, Frank 2.03m) and have a nice subtlety about their games. Heck, with their Grizzly Adams beards, they even look alike.
"We learned very quickly we are two guys who get along quite well - there are a lot of similarities," said Frank yesterday.
"We're almost the same guy," chipped in Horvath from alongside.
Both are realistic about their situations, and highly motivated to be the one who gets Vucinic's nod at the end of visits to Korea, China, Lithuania and Serbia over the next month.
"Only one of us gets to make the team," shrugged Horvath who won a national championship with Duke alongside Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy. "It's going to be a bummer either way. It's probably a good thing we get along, as opposed to every day hating each other."
Adds Frank: "It's really not that big of a deal because everybody here is somebody willing to put the team first. One thing we know in the Tall Blacks is it's not about what the team can do for you; it's about how you can help the team. It's something that's been pounded into us for a long time."
Horvath, who last played for the Tall Blacks in 2008, would dearly love to play in Spain, especially given as his old Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is now in charge of the USA whom the Tall Blacks will meet in section play in Bilbao.
"It would be a career highlight, especially being able to play against the US. I think either way I'll probably stay and be there," he said.
For Frank an opportunity to join the select group of Kiwis to have attended three world championships would be "the cherry on the top of my career ".
"That would mean a lot to me. I've come over here and made New Zealand my home, really been embraced by the community and tried to embrace them back."
The injury to Alex Pledger also makes them both potentially key men in Vucinic's small ball lineup.
"I just want to get in there and smash the opposition and get some rebounds," said Horvath. Added Frank:
"It makes us a little more versatile - every big has the ability to shoot the three, but it hurts us defensively and we're going to have to get by with grit and tactics."
One other trait they share: They're both banged up, Horvath with a sore back, and Frank nursing a sore calf. "It's a war of attrition at this stage. We're a combined 69 years old," quipped Horvath.
Added Frank: "Nenad came out of training yesterday, looked at the two of us and said: "I need younger Americans."
But right now they're the best two he's got.
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