New Fiba landscape a 'golden opportunity' for Tall Blacks – Andrew Gaze
Advantage Tall Blacks.
That's the view of Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze as he surveys the new international landscape created by governing body Fiba's shakedown of the global game, and the Oceania region's subsequent move into the Asian zone.
Under the new Fiba international system, Australia's Boomers national men's team and their Kiwi equivalents, the Tall Blacks, will now play in the Asian zone for the continental championships and World Cup qualifying competition.
That means significantly more meaningful international hoops than existed previously, with the Australians and Kiwis now part of the Asian qualifying process for the 2019 World Cup in China. They will both play a dozen games each (six home, six away) over a 15-month period - provided they advance to the second round - between November 2017 and February 2019 in designated Fiba windows.
Both sides will also line up in the Asia Cup 16-team tournament in Lebanon in August.
Previously the Boomers and Tall Blacks would meet once every two years in two-game series to decide Oceania representation or rankings at basketball's major international events.
With four of Fiba's six designated windows to play the World Cup qualifying games falling in the NBA season, when players from the American league will not be available, Gaze sees an edge for Paul Henare's New Zealand side.
New Zealand currently only has one player in the NBA in the form of Oklahoma City Thunder centre Steven Adams who is yet to represent his country on the international stage.
Australia, conversely, has a heavy NBA representation in Boomers regulars Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellevadova, Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Dante Exum, as well as young comers Thon Maker and Ben Simmons.
Gaze, a five-time Olympian with the Boomers and now coach of the Sydney Kings in the Australian National Basketball League (ANBL), sees the new system favouring Henare's men, especially with the national coach having the core of his side together in the ANBL with the NZ Breakers.
"I actually think that's a big advantage they've got right now," said Gaze of the multiple windows when coaches will be relying on their ANBL and Europe-based players. "They've got those guys who spend a lot of time together, it's mid-season or early season and they're in great form.
"A lot of them have played together for a long time, whereas some of our guys are coming from different places, and you've got chemistry issues you have to build in a new team with new faces.
"There are challenges with whatever format you put in place, but I'm looking at them (the Tall Blacks) and thinking it's a golden opportunity for them to do well."
With the Oceania powerhouses now immersing themselves among the hoops competition provided by the likes of China, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Lebanon, Jordan and Iran, there is a danger that the trans-Tasman rivalry could be diluted.
But again Gaze sees major advantages for New Zealand that should more than compensate for any reduction in games against the Boomers.
Top of that list, he says, has to be the new Olympic qualifying system that will see spots awarded on finishing positions at the World Cups. Previously the Tall Blacks had to defeat the Boomers in a head-to-head series; now because of the Games' "universality" principle which sees one spot protected for Oceania they just have to finish above them at the 32-team global tournament.
"I actually think [the rivalry] will grow, because you're getting more games, and we're following their progress, 'those bloody Kiwis, how are they going?'," said Gaze.
"The other thing is if I put my New Zealand hat on and look at the history and as competitive and great as they have been, the numbers don't stack up for them.
"With this process now and how you actually get to the Olympics it gives them a better chance. They could not have to play Australia in the whole thing and still qualify.
"It does make it more challenging for Australia from the Olympic side of things. They (New Zealand) should look at this as a great opportunity."