Crucial time as Horvath eyes World Cup spot
Former Duke Blue Devil and Manawatu Jets linchpin Nick Horvath is running out of chances to play his way on to the Tall Blacks roster for the upcoming basketball World Cup.
It's why the team's second tournament in China starting in the early hours of tomorrow morning is vital for the 33-year-old New Zealand-domiciled American.
Horvath hasn't played on tour for the Tall Blacks thus far because of back problems, sitting out the two games in Seoul and opening four-nation tournament win in China as he endeavours to get himself back into playing shape.
Prior to that, he played only the opening game of the three-test home series against South Korea.
Horvath is due back on court overnight when the Tall Blacks tip off with a clash against Chinese national league club the Dongguan Leopards, and it's no stretch to say this is an important preamble for the Palmerston North Boys High physics teacher ahead of a defining couple of weeks in Europe.
Coach Nenad Vucinic is carrying two naturalised Americans in his 14-strong squad, but can play only one in Spain. That puts Horvath and fellow veteran, 36-year-old Casey Frank, in a head-to-head duel for the sole spot.
Right now Horvath is on the outside looking in, needing to start stringing together some impressive performances if he hopes to unseat the incumbent Frank who himself is just back on court after calf problems.
Horvath hasn't played for the Tall Blacks since 2008, while Frank has been the long-term naturalised player under most of Vucinic's watch.
But the balance of this year's squad - shorn injured starting centre Alex Pledger, as well as unavailable NBA star Steven Adams - does play in Horvath's favour.
He's a more natural five man (centre), a better rebounder than Frank and a more likely low-post scoring option.
Playing in Frank's favour is his greater familiarity with the Tall Blacks system, his loyalty to the programme, his skills as a mobile, passing big man and his greater athleticism.
It's a decision Vucinic will weigh carefully given the team's glaring needs up front, though Horvath still has time to stake his claim.
The Tall Blacks coach is a smart man, and understands that it's not until his team starts measuring itself against the game's real heavyweights in the European component of the buildup that he will really be able to assess which of his two Americans will be most valuable for Spain.
His inclination will be to stick with the player he knows, but he will not sacrifice the team's needs for loyalty.
In other words, if Horvath measures up against those massive big men of Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece and Serbia who are up next in Europe, he could yet make the cut.
Assistant coach Pero Cameron, who knows a thing or two about big man play at international level, said Horvath was expected to suit up for the next three games in China (Cameroon and Ivory Coast will follow).
''With Casey we get a lot of experience and a guy who can pass or shoot at the four or five spot,'' Cameron said.
''He's getting better and better every game and starting to find his shot.
''I know Nick is getting a little agitated on the sideline -- he wants to get out there. He's doing all the work outside the games. We do need another presence inside and he brings a scoring presence down low and can rebound the ball pretty good.
''We just want him back on court to see if he's going to contribute what we need because we have to make that decision sooner or later.'' Horvath, for his part, is desperate to play in Spain, especially against a USA team under his old college coach Mike Krzyzewski.
''It would be a career highlight,'' said the man who has won an NCAA championship (with Duke) as well as NBL titles in Australia and New Zealand.