Tall Blacks shift their focus to World Cup tactics

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2014
Mika Vukona
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
BATTLE HARDENED: Mika Vukona was a warrior against Finland and will need to be at his best again when the Tall Blacks face Lithuania.

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Having been tested mightily by the quickness of the Koreans, Nenad Vucinic's Tall Blacks are now bracing themselves for an inquisition of more muscular proportions in China and beyond.

The World Cup-bound New Zealand men's team are on a 13-game tour leading into the global tournament in Spain which tips off on August 30.

They split two games against South Korea in Seoul to win the overall home-away series 3-2, but had their issues throughout with turnovers and handling the defensive quickness of the opposition guards.

Now they're in China for twin tournaments featuring African heavyweights Cameroon and Ivory Coast, the Tall Blacks are expecting the challenges to be more around size and power.

''We've had the fast Koreans and now we've got the big bangers in the African teams, and we'll have to adjust to that and make sure we minimise those turnovers that hurt us the last couple of games,'' said skipper Mika Vukona.

Dealing with bigger frontlines is going to be a fact of life for these not-so Tall Blacks as they face some of the more traditional powers in the sport between now and Spain.

With the 2.15m Alex Pledger (foot) and 2.13m Steven Adams (unavailable) both ruled out - there is an outside chance Pledger could recover in time - Vucinic's squad does not have a true centre.

The 2.11m Rob Loe - a four man throughout his career - and under-sized naturalised Americans Nick Horvath and Casey Frank (only one of whom can play in Spain) will cover the position on this campaign, and Vucinic says it's a matter of being smart, adaptive and playing to their strengths.

''We've got to be mobile, we've got to execute really well offensively and especially on defence, and we have to be creative and probably a little bit innovative as well,'' Vucinic said.

Horvath said it was a matter of the Tall Blacks continuing to do what they do best.

''We're never going to out-talent anyone. We do it through different ways, through grit, determination, tactics and lot of it is just a will and desire and fight to play bigger and better than our talent level.

''It's the only way we can stay competitive against countries that have 100 times as many people as New Zealand and such a bigger talent pool.'' Frank said the team had to turn the negative into a positive.

''It makes us a little bit more versatile,'' he added.

''Now every big we have has the ability to play both spots, and has the ability to shoot the three. It hurts us defensively though and we're going to have to get by with grit and tactics guarding some of those monsters we're going to have to guard.''

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The Tall Blacks opened their first tournament in China against Cameroon last night, and meet Ivory Coast and Chinese club GuangDong over the next two days.

Tall Blacks World Cup buildup In China: Aug 3, vs Ivory Coast; Aug 4: vs GuangDong; Aug 7: vs DongGuan Leopards; Aug 8: vs Cameroon; Aug 9: vs Ivory Coast. In Lithuania: Aug 16: vs Slovenia; Aug 17: vs Lithuania; Aug 18: vs Greece. In Serbia: Aug 21: vs Serbia; Aug 24: vs Serbia.

- Sunday Star Times

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