There's an old sporting cliché about how it's more difficult to defend a title than win one - NZ Youth 3x3 coach Anthony Corban has already found that to be true.
Next week, Corban and his crew head to Alcobendas, Madrid, to uphold New Zealand's somewhat surprising reputation in this relatively new basketball format.
Twelve months ago, the same coach had a completely different line-up that confounded expectations to capture the inaugural world championship in Italy. But Corban has had to overcome several challenges to this latest campaign even before they've left home soil.
The 2011 roster was spearheaded by then-Tall Black Isaac Fotu, who hit the winning basket in the final against Bulgaria. Two of his team-mates - Tai Webster and Rueben Te Rangi - are still eligible this year, but are unavailable after moving on to bigger and better things.
Webster was a shock selection for this year's Tall Blacks Olympic qualifying bid and stunned everyone with his performance against some of the world's top players. Now committed to a scholarship at the University of Nebraska next year, he must now put in some extra time at school to ensure his grades are up to scratch.
Meanwhile, Te Rangi is currently leading the Junior Tall Blacks' bid to qualify for the FIBA World U19 Championships through a three-test series against the Australian Emus this week. He's also picked up a development contract with the NZ Breakers and has opted to concentrate on that opportunity.
Oh, and the 3x3 contingent arrives back in New Zealand three days into the national secondary schools championships in Nelson, so some institutions have been understandably reluctant to let their star players go.
"It gives another exciting group of athletes an opportunity to perform on the international stage," shrugs Corban.
This year's outfit is spearheaded by North Harbour forward Ana Haku, who led Rosmini College to the '11 schools title and was named Most Valuable Player for the tournament. He's since represented Harbour Heat in the National Basketball League and is also contesting this week's FIBA Oceania U19 Championships at Porirua.
Waitakere West Auckland's Derone Ruakawa and North Harbour's Alex Talma are also with the JTBs, while the fourth team member is Jaylen Gerrard of North Harbour, who starred for the New Zealand team that won the Oceania youth title in June.
The team is due to arrive in Spain next Tuesday and will scrimmage against the United States on Thursday, before the tournament begins the next day.
New Zealand's group also consists of France, Canada, China, Iran, Poland, Slovakia and Belize. The four group winners will progress straight through to quarterfinals, while second and third from each group will play off for the other four spots in knockout play.
"Because of last year's victory, we won't be viewed as a development nation this year," observes Corban. "Everyone may want a piece of us, but then again, everyone may just write us off as a one-year wonder."
FIBA 3x3 U18 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Group A - Belize, Canada, China, France, Iran, NZ, Poland, Slovak Republic.
Group B - Angola, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Tunisia
Group C - Australia, Estonia, Jordan, Lithuania, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Venezuela
Group D - Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Spain, Turkey, USA
NEW ZEALAND TEAM
Jaylen Gerrard (North Harbour), Ana Haku (North Harbour), Derone Ruakawa (Waitakere West Auckland), Alex Talma (North Harbour). Coach: Anthony Corban (Waikato)
v Belize 11pm (NZT)
v Slovakia 12.20am (NZT)
v Poland 2.40am (NZT)
v Iran 4.20am (NZT)
v France 11pm (NZT)
v Canada 12.20am (NZT)
v China 3am (NZT)
- © Fairfax NZ News