Tall Blacks need more action, says Mika Vukona
Mika Vukona believes the Tall Blacks need a greater diet of international basketball if they are to continue to improve on the world stage.
New Zealand's hopes of competing in the London Olympics disappeared yesterday when they failed to get out of group play at their qualifying tournament in Venezuela.
The Tall Blacks beat Angola 68-64 in a low-scoring duel in their final group game, but it was not enough to move on to the quarterfinals. New Zealand headed into the tournament underdone, playing only three warmup games in Brazil.
They were scheduled to play another lead-up tournament in China before heading to South America, but it was cancelled at late notice, which disrupted their preparations.
The Tall Blacks have played 16 games over the past two years, but have not have played a test at home since 2009.
Stand-in skipper Vukona believed it was integral for the Tall Blacks to play more international games to develop combinations and test themselves against quality opposition.
"We need more games internationally to become stronger," he said.
"The more games we can get [the better we'll be].
"Hopefully, after this season, they go back to the drawing board and try and figure out a way we can get more international games."
After three warmup losses and a 22-point drubbing at the hands of Macedonia on Wednesday, New Zealand finally hit their straps against Angola, racing out to a 18-point lead late in the second quarter. Angola clawed their way back into the game after halftime, but the Tall Blacks held on for the win.
"Everything just started to click. Normally with Tall Blacks preparation we have a month longer [to prepare]. Maybe that played a factor," Vukona said.
"It's a shame, because the guys are starting to learn how to work with each other."
The Tall Blacks were always going to be up against it at the Olympic qualifier, with their two most potent scorers, Kirk Penney and Thomas Abercrombie, not travelling to Venezuela because of injury. Rising stars Steve Adams and Isaac Fotu were also unavailable due to their coming college commitments in the United States.
Without that firepower, the Tall Blacks struggled with their shooting.
One of the positives to come out of the Tall Blacks' early exit was the play of North Shore schoolboy Tai Webster, who last month became the youngest player to debut for the national team at 17 years of age.
Webster had an outstanding game against Angola, scoring a game-high 21 points on seven of 12 shooting, and Vukona said he was a precocious talent.
"It's great for New Zealand basketball to have a young kid like that, who's 17, to come through at the point guard position. His potential is limitless. He's going to be picked up by a good college [in the United States]. He knows how to score and is only going to get better. It's very promising for New Zealand."
With Webster, Adams, Fotu and big man Rob Loe all aged 20 years or under, Vukona believed the future looked extremely bright for the Tall Blacks.
"When you see what they're doing in their respective colleges and even in the age groups, it's exciting. Hopefully we can continue the emergence of basketball in New Zealand."
- © Fairfax NZ News