With one of the better scoring guards in the tournament, a number of decent bigs and numerous experienced international players, New Zealand has an opportunity to at least push into a semi-final spot in Manila – the Tall Blacks could emerge as a semi-final opponent for Canada as the Kiwis, 21st in the most recent FIBA ranking, have been slated in the pool opposite the Canadians: Group B with #5 France and the host Philippines (FIBA World #28).
In 6’1″ Corey Webster, a 27 year old combo guard who plays in Greece after spending some time recently with New Orleans Hornets, Kiwi’s have a go-to scorer in the back court. Webster led New Zealand at 13.7 ppg at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain where Kiwis finished 2-4, losing to Jonas Valanciunis and Lithuania in the Round of 16. Last summer at the FIBA Oceania zone qualifier, Webster averaged 19.5 ppg in a pair of losses to Australia. Kiwis were without 35 year veteran 6’5″ wing Kirk Penney (Wisconsin ’03), who did not play last summer after averaging 10.7 ppg in Spain.
Although there is N.B.A. talent available in 7’0″ Steven Adams (Pitt ’13), the 12th pick in the 2013 NBA draft and a current high-rotation guy with Oklahoma City Thunder, Adams has announced he will not participate in Manila this summer. 6’10” Aron Baynes (Washington State ’09/Detroit Pistons) although born in New Zealand, was bred in Australia and usually plays for the Aussies internationally.
An intriguing prospect 6’10” Tai Wynyard (18 years old) is currently enrolled at the University of Kentucky – he arrived in Lexington in late December ’15 and will start his Wildcats career as a redshirt freshman this coming fall. However, Wynyard has decided to spend his entire summer at UK to prepare for his first NCAA collegiate season and thus will be unavailable for his National side.
The remainder of the Tall Blacks roster is dotted with unheralded but very experienced international talent, primarily toiling in the New Zealand pro league as well as a couple of younger, emerging talents, most notably 6’4″ Tai Webster (20 years old) who just finished his junior season at Nebraska (10.1 ppg/4.1 rpg) and 6’8″ athlete Isaac Fotu (Hawaii ’14) who just finished his second season in Liga ACB (Spanish First Division). Another possible NCAA player who could stick this summer is 6’11” Jack Salt, a rising sophomore at Virginia, an Elite Eight ACC team for which he averaged just 6 mpg for this season.
Veteran forwards 6’6″ Mika Vukona (33 yrs. old) and 6’6″ Thomas Abercrombie (28/Washington State ’07) who plays in Turkey. 6’11” Rob Loe (Saint Louis ’14) should provide help off the bench (10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds in his senior season with the Billikens). Two others, 34 year old Lindsay Tait, another New Zealand pro league vet, who provides depth in the back court and 29 year old sometimes-starter Alex Pledger, a 7’1″ center from NCAA Division II Belmont Abbey (North Carolina) are Tall Black veterans.
While the roster is unheralded for the most part, Tall Blacks typically roll out 10-11 players per game for meaningful minutes and are a tough, scrappy group. One scenario under which Kiwis could be Canada’s semi-final opponent is if our Canucks win our group and Kiwis finish second, setting up the cross-over meeting.
Prior to last summer’s two-game sweep at the hands of Australia, Tall Blacks went 2-3 in group play at the 2014 World’s in Spain (wins over Ukraine by 12 and Finland by 2; losses to Turkey by 3, Dominican Republic by 13 and U.S.A. by 27) before the Round of 16 loss to Lithuania.