Tall Blacks to face off against USA at World Cup
The Tall Blacks have drawn the United States in an otherwise less than fearsome pool at the Fiba World Cup in Spain later this year.
Nenad Vucinic's New Zealand men's side fared reasonably well in the group draw made in Barcelona today. They also have wild cards Finland and Turkey, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic in Pool C which will be played in Bilbao.
The top four in each group will progress to the knockout stages, and New Zealand should have an excellent chance of matching their feats at the last global tournament in Turkey when they made it as far as the top 16 before beign eliminated by Russia.
Their best performance at the world championship was in 2002 in Indianapolis when the Tab Baldwin-coached side finished fourth.
"It's as good as those draws can get," assistant coach Paul Henare said today. "I think we've done all right. It's one of those pools you look at the draw you can maybe push for second spot or you could finish last as well.
"There's definitely some winnable games there, but you've got to turn up on the day and make sure you do your homework and have everything in place to put yourself into a position to win."
The USA, of course, are the powerhouses of the sport and will be the hottest of favourites to retain the crown they won in Turkey with a lineup featuring a bevy of superstars from the NBA.
But the New Zealanders have managed to avoid the other heavyweights of the international game, with Ukraine and Turkey probably the most dangerous of the remainder of their pool opponents.
The Dominican Republic, likely to be led by Atlanta Hawks star Al Horford, and newcomers Finland will be the two sides the Tall Blacks would regarda s "beatable" to ensure a place among the tournament's top 16.
"Without under-estimating the task we've got ahead of us, I think there are some teams in there we can do well against," he said.
"We saw a little bit of the Dominican Republic in Venezuela in 2012 at the [Olympuic] repechage tournament, we've faced Turkey and Finland in the past, and we don't know too much about Ukraine. You look at some of the other European teams that are at the World Cup and you think, yeah, we've done pretty well."
Playing the USA in pool play can be both a blessing and a curse. Naturally, they're going to be very tough opponents, but it at least means the Tall Blacks can't meet them in the round of 16.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the team they send," Heanre added. "They seem to have their best group for the Olympic Games, but sometimes when they send their young groups they're guys full of energy, skill and talent and can be really dangerous as well."
Pool A shapes as the "group of death" after today's draw, with hosts Spain joined by fellow European powerhouses Serbia and France, the dangerous Brazilians and an improving Iran, as well as Egypt.
Andrej Lemanis' Australian Boomers have been draw in Pool D alongside Lithuania, Slovenia, Mexico, Korea and Angola.
The FIBA Basketball World Cup takes place in Spain from August 30 to September 14.
Basketball NZ now hopes to finalise a buildup programme for the Tall Blacks that could include visits by South Korea and possibly one other nation and tournaments in Korea, Lithuania and France en route to Spain.
Pools for the Basketball World Cup in Spain:
Pool A (Granada): Spain, Serbia, France, Brazil, Egypt, Iran.
Pool B (Seville): Philippines, Senegal, Puerto Rico, Argentina Greece, Croatia.
Pool C (Bilbao): Dominican Republic, Turkey, USA, Finland, New Zealand, Ukraine.
New Zealand's Pool C games: Aug 30 v Turkey; Aug 31 v Dominican Republic; Sept 2 v USA; Sept 3 v Ukraine; Sept 4 v Finland.
Pool D (Grand Canaria): Slovenia, Lithuania, Angola, Korea, Mexico, Australia.