Small ball can come up big - Tom Abercrombie

NOT WELL: Tom Abercrombie is one of five Tall Blacks players who have picked up a stomach virus as the team's World Cup build-up intensifies.
NOT WELL: Tom Abercrombie is one of five Tall Blacks players who have picked up a stomach virus as the team's World Cup build-up intensifies.

You won't catch Tom Abercrombie lamenting the lack of a true centre in the Tall Blacks for the hoops world cup in Spain. Small ball is just this guy's cup of tea.

The onus will be on the likes of Abercrombie, Mika Vukona, Kirk Penney and rising combo guard Corey Webster to provide the offensive spark for the not-so-Tall Blacks when they battle the world's best in Bilbao and, hopefully, Barcelona at the end of August.

With regular starter Alex Pledger now highly unlikely for Spain with his foot injury and Steven Adams electing to work on his game in Oklahoma, Nenad Vucinic has found himself without a specialist five man for this campaign.

That leaves 2.10m power forward Rob Loe and either Nick Horvath or Casey Frank - the two naturalised Americans are vying for one spot at the global tournament - covering the big man position.

The upshot is the Tall Blacks will be undersized but not necessarily under-powered for Spain, with the versatility and athleticism of Abercrombie a big part of that.

"We'll be all right - we've learned to play with whatever we've got and this year will be no exception," Abercrombie said as the Tall Blacks tucked away the second of back-to-back four-nation tournaments in China last night.

"You have to try use it to your advantage. We've got some big guys who are a little undersized but they can stretch the floor and shoot the ball. That's a big strength of ours.

"At the same time you need to get your inside touches and points in the paint.

"Whilst we've got some great shooters, we need to find ways to get easy points and getting good shots near the basket is going to be the biggest challenge."

In the Tall Blacks' favour, small ball has become a bit of a trend in the game, set by the Miami Heat with their erstwhile superstar LeBron James and, to a lesser extent, by the champion San Antonio Spurs.

But these teams relied on players picking up easy points in the paint - James for the Heat, and Tony Parker for the Spurs - and on quality ball movement to create open looks on the perimeter.

To that extent, Abercrombie said it was vital that the Tall Blacks continue to evolve their game on a 13-game buildup tour which now heads to Lithuania, and then Serbia.

"We've got a lot of games but every practice is important too in terms of pushing each other and getting that level up to where we need it.

"International basketball is a completely different game to what we're used to and we need these games and practices to get ourselves up to speed with how it's run."

Abercrombie has also been encouraged by the form of his Breakers team-mate Corey Webster who's fast emerging as a legitimate offensive option.

"Everybody needs to be a threat at this level. It's all about scouting teams the best you can at the world champs and finding ways where you can take advantage. We need options at every position."

After taking a month off following his post-Breakers stint in France, Abercrombie feels like his legs are coming back, as well as his confidence. A game-high 23 points against the Dongguan Leopards in China was a good sign of that.

"One thing we always bring is that toughness and physicality, and never backing down," Abercrombie said.

Sunday Star Times