Adams part of the Tall Blacks family - Vucinic
No news is good news as far as Tall Blacks coach Nenad Vucinic is concerned around the availability of NBA rookie sensation Steven Adams for this year's World Cup in Spain.
Vucinic learned yesterday that his New Zealand men's team has been grouped in pool C for the tournament, which runs from August 30-Sept 14, alongside red-hot title favourites the USA, Turkey, Ukraine, Finland and the Dominican Republic.
All the group games will be played in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao.
Vucinic is anticipating, injury permitting, having all offshore-based players available for the rebranded World Cup - and that includes Adams, who is winning plaudits for his rookie feats with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"No news is good news really, we haven't heard he will not be there," Vucinic said from Lebanon yesterday. "There's no indication [OKC] will try to stop him. They have [Kevin] Durant and [Russell] Westbrook with the US team, and [Serge] Ibaka with Spain, so I believe we will have a good chance of getting Steve.
"We hope Steve has got the enthusiasm to play, we know him, we know he loves his country, and we are really hoping he will have time to play over the summer."
Adams has previously stated he wants to play at the World Cup, but will be guided by team wishes at the end of the NBA season. Adams' Thunder side has the best record in the Western Conference and is considered a great chance to reach its second NBA Finals.
Vucinic was taking a realistic view on a pool draw which he considered was a lot tougher than some were making out. Assistant coach Paul Henare said: "It's one of those pools when you look at the draw you can maybe push for second spot or you could finish last as well."
Vucinic noted the absence of teams from Asia or Africa - traditionally the easybeats of the world event - and said the Tall Blacks would have to play somewhere near their best just to finish in the top four, and qualify for the first knockout round.
In Ukraine and Finland, the Tall Blacks will face mid-level European opponents who will be well drilled and physically tough, while the Dominican Republic, led by the Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford, will be a talented and athletic group.
"We can lose to all those teams, but we believe we could beat them as well if we play well. It's a matter of preparing the right way, bringing the right attitude and playing good basketball," Vucinic said.
Naturally the USA are on a level of their own, especially with the calibre of players they will have in Spain, while Vucinic considers wildcards Turkey - with NBA stars such as Hedo Turkoglu, Omer Asik, Ersan Ilyasova and Enes Kanter - the second best team in the pool, despite their failure to qualify directly out of the European championships.
But the Tall Blacks could take a very strong squad to Spain. As well as Adams, US-based collegians Rob Loe, Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster and the Turkey-based Kirk Penney are expected to put their hands up, joining home stars such as Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Alex Pledger, Corey Webster, Lindsay Tait, Casey Frank, Reuben Te Rangi and Jack Salt.
Henare considers it a generation of talent even better than the 2002 group he was part of that finished fourth at the world championships in Indianapolis.
"A few things had to align for us to do as well as we did in 2002, and we made the most of those opportunities, but in terms of talent and skill level, I do believe if everyone's available this year is going to be better than that team."
Vucinic is a little more grounded in his view.
"Our talent is nothing compared to the teams we play. We talk about Steve Adams who's made a great start in the NBA, but he's just a small-role player in the team. If people think he's going to come in and kill everybody ... he's going to play against guys who have major roles and are on $10 million contracts.
"Our strength is the grittiness, the team and the camaraderie, not the talent. That's the way it's always been, and the way it will be for a long time."
BASKETBALL WORLD CUP
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.
Pool D (Gran Canaria): Slovenia, Lithuania, Angola, Korea, Mexico, Australia.
New Zealand's draw: Aug 30 vs Turkey; Aug 31 vs Dominican Republic; Sept 2 vs USA; Sept 3 vs Ukraine; Sept 4 vs Finland.