Penney pleased with young Tall Blacks talent

17:00, Sep 04 2014
Tai Webster
ON FIRE: Tai Webster is one of many highly promising young players on the Tall Blacks roster at the World Cup.

Kirk Penney summed it up perfectly as the veteran Tall Blacks star reflected on a passing of the torch going on at this World Cup in Spain.

This may well be Penney's final global tournament with a New Zealand team he's been a big part of for the past 15 years.

At 33 he might struggle for the time or the inclination to go through the grind that is international hoops - and he gave a broad hint to that effect here yesterday following the Tall Blacks' 73-61 victory over Ukraine to keep their knockout stage hopes alive.

It will certainly be Casey Frank's last lap of the track with the national team and Lindsay Tait's and though you'd never count him out, Mika Vukona can't have too many campaigns before he starts curtailing his commitments.

Coach Nenad Vucinic is also weighing retirement.

The next World Cup is five years away, the Olympics remain a difficult proposition until Oceania is absorbed into Asia and there is a bright new wave of young talent coming through the New Zealand game, spearheaded by the Oklahamo City Thunder's Steven Adams.


Penney indicated his days are numbered when talking about the play of 19-year-old point guard Tai Webster at this tournament.

The Nebraska University sophomore is impressing in Bilbao with his athleticism, talent, fearlessness and drive.

Yesterday he did a great job containing star Ukraine point guard Eugene ''Pooh'' Jeter and chipped in with a rock-solid statline of eight points, seven rebounds and three assists as the Tall Blacks notched their first victory of the pool round.

''Tai's got a lot of pressure on him, a lot of responsibility has been given to him,'' Penney said.

''It's a great development period for him. He's a big part of the future of New Zealand basketball, and he's getting this opportunity now to test himself against the best in the world.

''He's at times wonderful for us, and we just want to get as many of those moments out of him as possible. Obviously my time is fading and his time is illuminating.

"For me it's great see him come through, and standing up to the challenge.''

Isaac Fotu is another of the emergent talents in this Tall Blacks group.

He's 20 and yesterday against Ukraine played like a seasoned veteran with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds as he converted five of eight very polished jumpers. His college coach is adamant the young man has NBA-level potential.

Vukona recognises the talent oozing out of his young team-mate and positional backup. ''He was first team in his conference for Hawaii, and has a massive upside.

''He's a massive guy, he loves the physicality - and he's got that nice touch outside. Isaac has shown glimpses of what he can do, and hopefully, if we go deeper in the tournament, he'll show more of that.''

Throw in Rob Loe, 22, Tai's older brother Corey, 25, the 26-year-old Tom Abercrombie, 25-year-old BJ Anthony and you have a core group of youth in Spain that has all sorts of upside.

Then there's Adams, Reuben Te Rangi, Jack Salt and 16-year-old sensation Tai Wynyard, whom coach Nenad Vucinic describes as the most talented Kiwi he's seen at that age.

Toss the 27-year-old Alex Pledger into that mix and there's a bit to work with in coming years.

Vukona reflected how satisfying it had been to have youngsters like Fotu and Webster stepping up to play their part in an emotional victory over Ukraine.

''They did an awesome job. We know we've got a deep team, but we've been clicking and firing differently all tournament.

''It was just nice to see Isaac come to work - he was hitting those mid-range jumpers, and getting those rebounds. Tai did a great job holding Jeter who's a European quality point guard.

"When you've got guys like those two stepping up, your team is a little bit harder to beat - and that showed today.''

Mixing Adams, Te Rangi, an older Wynyard, a college-hardened Salt and one or two others into the current core of youth hints at a future so bright, someone might need to pass the sunglasses.

New Zealand 73 (Kirk Penney 15, Everard Bartlett 14, Corey Webster 11, Isaac Fotu 10) Ukraine 61 (Maxym Kornienko 15, Pooh Jeter 14, Ihor Zaytsev 10). 1Q: 18-19; HT: 36-30; 3Q: 53-45.

* The Tall Blacks needed to beat Finland overnight to progress to the last 16 at the World Cup. For coverage of the match, go to

Marc Hinton travelled to the World Cup with assistance from Basketball NZ.