You could forgive Casey Frank if his nose was a little out of joint.
The Wellington Saints forward has been a Tall Blacks regular since his 2006 debut but suddenly his position as the team's naturalised player was under threat. Fellow Americans Kevin Braswell and Marcel Jones were also chasing Kiwi citizenship as coach Nenad Vucinic mulled over his options for next month's Olympic Games qualifiers.
Frank, Braswell and Jones all took part in last week's trials in Auckland. While Jones' paperwork came through thanks to his New Zealand wife, Braswell's did not. That left Vucinic with a choice between Frank and Jones.
Experience won out, with Frank yesterday confirmed in a 12-strong squad to be captained by Mika Vukona.
"The Tall Blacks is only as strong as its weakest link so if there's somebody out there that's a better player than I am, then I'd expect them to get the job," Frank, 34, said.
"It's not a job for life, it's a privilege while you're there and while you have the opportunity you really have to savour it.
"I think everyone on this team understands that."
Frank remains optimistic about the July 2-8 qualifying tournament in Caracas, Venezuela.
The Tall Blacks will be without their best players, Kirk Penney and Thomas Abercrombie, as well as two of their top prospects, Steve Adams and Isaac Fotu.
Twelve teams are gunning for the three remaining spots in London. World No18 New Zealand face 15th-ranked Angola and 33rd-ranked Macedonia in pool play.
"The history of the Tall Blacks, the sum of the total has always been bigger than the sum of the parts. We don't have that crutch of Kirk's scoring to rely on and while other guys probably won't be able to play up to that level, I think our system will be able to create points when we need them and give us the opportunity to win," Frank said.
Shooting guards Hayden Allen and Tai Webster are the winners from the absence of Penney (calf), Abercrombie (ankle) and Fotu, who withdrew to focus on his studies before heading to the University of Hawaii.
Allen, 32, finally makes the cut after a decade of trials and having survived a nasty car crash on the Auckland Harbour Bridge less than a year ago.
Schoolboy Webster, 17, the younger brother of Corey, is a genuine bolter.
However, Frank said the teen oozed potential.
"He's been able to grasp the systems really well and he's a smooth player. But talk about a big step up, I mean the guy had to take practice off last night because he went to his school ball. He was talking about sore legs the other day. I was like, `Sore legs? Bro, double your life and keep doing it, those are what sore legs are'."
The Tall Blacks leave New Zealand on Wednesday to prepare in Australia and then Brazil.
Tall Blacks squad: Lindsay Tait, Josh Bloxham, Jarrod Kenny, Everard Bartlett, Hayden Allen, Tai Webster, Leon Henry, Mika Vukona (captain), Casey Frank, Jeremiah Trueman, Alex Pledger, Rob Loe.
- The Dominion Post
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