Rueben Te Rangi happy to be quiet achiever
Reuben Te Rangi is flying a little under the Tall Blacks radar at the moment, which suits this determined hoops prodigy from Auckland just fine.
Te Rangi didn't mind that all the attention when Nenad Vucinic named his 12-strong Tall Blacks squad to tour China centred on the schoolboy pair of Izayah Le'afa and Jack Salt who were afforded dramatic callups.
At just 18, and with a game that's maturing at a rapid rate, Te Rangi would normally have been a headline selection for this two-week trip to China to shake things down ahead of next month's Fiba Oceania series against the Boomers.
But as one of five debutants in a touring Tall Black troupe decimated by injuries and cryoffs, the 2.01m forward found himself such a predictable selection that hardly anyone paid him much mind.
On the day the squad was announced, it was 16-year-old Wellington point guard Le'afa and towering 17-year-old Auckland schoolboy sensation Salt who were paraded before the cameras. Te Rangi's presence barely raised an eyebrow.
These indeed are unusual times, even for a coach like Vucinic who has never been afraid to toss a youngster in at the deep end. Te Rangi is one of three teens in this group and five newcomers to international basketball.
But there's something a little different about this former Auckland Grammar standout who the Breakers were ecstatic to promote to their fully contracted squad for the next Australian NBL season.
Where the other youngsters are raw and nervy and a little daunted by their rapid rise, there's a cool detachment and sense of belonging from Te Rangi. This is a mature young man and already he looks like he belongs at this level.
Like a number of his peers, things are moving rapidly for Te Rangi, who won a world under-19 three-on-three title in 2011 with Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster and has not looked back since.
He had an outstanding season as a development player with the Breakers, is fresh off an historic NBL title with the Southland Sharks and now gets to showcase his impressive all-round game at the highest level.
"Having the opportunity to play for my country is an honour and it's been a big dream of mine since I was young," said Te Rangi. "It's definitely a high coming off the NBL championship but I'm enjoying the ride right now and hopefully it doesn't stop."
The Breakers are hoping Te Rangi will emerge as a poster child for the stay-at-home route in player development. The American college system swallows up a heap of Kiwi talent, and often it prevents them playing for their country.
This year alone Fotu, Webster and Rob Loe are all unavailable for the Tall Blacks because of commitments to their colleges.
Te Rangi said he agonised long and hard over whether to follow his peers into the American system, but eventually decided what he had at home was just as good.
"It was a long decision between me and my family, and we came to the conclusion the Breakers had been there for me since day one, they had picked me up when I was a young kid and developed my game.
"So I owe them for that and they're just good people. We thought their route is just as good and I can develop my game just as much here with my family here in support."
Te Rangi also learnt a valuable lesson when he teamed up with Leon Henry at the Sharks under Paul Henare. Henry had just lost his spot at the Breakers to Te Rangi but took the setback in his stride and played a leading role in a Southland side that quickly developed a special culture.
"He showed me class," said Te Rangi. "He didn't take it to heart, we shook hands, moved on from there, and came out a better team."
Te Rangi already looks the part in the Tall Blacks. In a midweek practice game against the touring Philippines he knocked down a succession of key jumpers to spark a fourth-quarter comeback win.
"I just want to show the coaches what I can do, put some numbers up and perform my role," said Te Rangi. So far he's doing that seamlessly.
*The Tall Blacks lost point guard Josh Bloxham (high ankle sprain) and big man Jeremiah Trueman (toe) to injury on Friday and have called up rookie Wellington forward Jordan Ngatai as a replacement. They fly out for a fortnight in China tonight.
Tall Blacks: Tom Abercrombie, BJ Anthony, Everard Bartlett, Casey Frank, Jarrod Kenny, Izayah Mauriohooho Le'afa, Jordan Ngatai, Brook Ruscoe, Jack Salt, Reuben Te Rangi, Mika Vukona, Corey Webster.