Basketball's empty coffers may deny Adams

PRICEY: The insurance cost that comes with Steven Adams may prevent the new NBA recruit from playing for the cash-strapped Tall Blacks.
PRICEY: The insurance cost that comes with Steven Adams may prevent the new NBA recruit from playing for the cash-strapped Tall Blacks.

It's almost unthinkable, but Kiwi NBA centre Steven Adams may be denied the chance to pull on his country's famous black singlet because of the sport's well publicised funding issues.

Basketball NZ has received no money this year from the high performance funding agency, and that's resulted in coach Nenad Vucinic having to run his Tall Blacks programme on the smell of an oily rag.

Not coincidentally, a number of established internationals have made themselves unavailable this year and Vucinic gathered a youthful group in Auckland yesterday to begin two days of trials before he names a 13-strong squad to tour China next week.

That provides the lead-in to next month's home-and-away Oceania series against Australia's Boomers, which is where it gets interesting.

Vucinic confirmed yesterday, after the first of two sessions, that there is a possibility Adams could be available to play the Australians, if released by the Oklahoma City Thunder who drafted him No 12 overall in the recent NBA draft.

But because Basketball NZ has received not a brass razoo from High Performance Sport NZ - in comparison to the $A5.5 million Andrej Lemanis has to run his Boomers programme - they would find it almost impossible to pay the insurance needed to cover Adams' $US1.7 million annual salary with the Thunder.

"For the series against Australia he has expressed his willingness to play for us, but there are a lot of hurdles to overcome for that to happen," said Vucinic yesterday.

"One of the main things that will be a problem, as it was in the past for Sean Marks, will be the insurance. Because of the big contracts they have, the insurance is extremely high and everybody knows our situation in terms of funding."

Vucinic had no idea what the insurance would come to, but he recalled close to a decade ago being faced with finding around $50,000 to cover Sean Marks.

"It's a lot of money," said Vucinic.

At the moment it's all hypothetical as Adams is still working through his situation with the Thunder following his solid performances at the recent Orlando summer league tournament.

But Tall Blacks assistant coach Paul Henare, fresh off guiding the Southland Sharks to their historic NBL title, felt the Thunder could be keen for Adams to play some international basketball as part of his off-season programme.

"It would be good for him," said Henare.

"They've got a pretty good grasp of the importance of international basketball. They've got Serge Ibaka who plays for Spain, and both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play in the USA programme. Hopefully they allow it."

Henare was optimistic a solution would be found if Adams was made available.

"I kinda see a situation where if that was the issue someone would front with the money. A person with money like that might see the benefit in backing someone like Steven Adams."

Henare had no doubt that Adams, even while still developing his game, would make the Tall Blacks a better team - a view backed by team skipper Mika Vukona.

"It would be a crying shame," said Vukona yesterday. "It's not just us as players, it's New Zealanders as a whole who would be deprived of seeing one of the best products ever to come out of this country.

"He is only going to get better and he's having a pretty solid summer at the moment."

Meanwhile, the opening day of the trials did not exactly go smoothly for Vucinic and his assistants.

First naturalised American Nick Horvath had to withdraw because of his wife's pregnancy, then experienced point guard Linsday Tait had to be despatched for an X-ray on his fractured wrist to determine his availability, and finally doubt emerged about the availability of starting centre Alex Pledger.

Vucinic said "personal reasons" had put a cloud over Pledger's place on the trip to China, and he hoped to be clearer on the availability of both today.

Wellington schoolboy Izayah Mauriohooho-Leafa, 16, was called into the trial, with Henare saying he had impressed with a "poised" display and was a chance of a surprise call-up should Tait be ruled out.

Westlake Boys pupil Jack Salt is considered an excellent chance of becoming Vuicinic's third straight 17-year-old schoolboy selection, following in the footsteps of Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster. 

The 2.08m lefty is rated New Zealand's next quality big man off the production line.

Vucinic will name his squad to tour China tomorrow, and it will include Tom Abercrombie who is currently playing for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA's Las Vegas summer league.