This time of the year typically sees the majority of the SKYCITY Breakers roster in black singlets, touring to various parts of the world with the Tall Blacks and playing in tournaments or qualifiers for a FIBA event. This year is a little different – at least in personnel.
With SKYCITY Breakers Tall Blacks such as Rob Loe, Tom Abercrombie, Mika Vukona and Alex Pledger either not available or being rested from international duty, the onus has fallen on the next generation to step up into the black singlet on the current tour to China and then the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut (August 8 to 21).
SKYCITY Breakers Finn Delany and Shea Ili are part of the current Tall Blacks leadership group, while development player Derone Raukawa plays backup point guard to Ili on the current tour. Former development player Ethan Rusbatch is another of the more senior players in a very young roster that also features new Breakers signing James Hunter in a black singlet for the first time.
The team is of course coached by SKYCITY Breakers Head Coach Paul Henare, who splits his time between the two roles, often to the benefit of both organizations as he runs his eye over the best talent in the country.
Henare is impressed by what he has seen so far on tour, with his young charges stepping up to the challenge.
“We had a great camp in Papakura where we spent as much time off court instilling what it means to be a Tall Black as we did practicing our playbook on court. On arrival in China the reality of international basketball hit home with a tough loss to a resurgent home team back in front of their fans and in their own environment. But the response last night (Sunday night NZT) against Lithuania was exactly what I needed to see and shows how keen this group is to learn and grow from this opportunity.
“The bonus is the experience that our young Breakers players will bring back to Atlas Place. They are coming back better players, more experienced on and off court, and with more to add to our group for sure.”
The young New Zealanders went down to Lithuania by just one point, missing a game winning shot on the buzzer that would have a reward for their tireless efforts on defence and improvement at the offensive end of the floor.
Ili led the side brilliantly, leading all scorers with 20 points, while Delany made his first appearance of the tour as he overcomes hamstring tightness. Hunter found his mojo on the offensive end, with 13 points as he continues a rapid rise in the sport that includes his first fulltime pro contract with the Breakers and Raukawa was an able back up to Ili, despite being limited in minutes due to an ankle strain.
Delany was a breakthrough performer in the second part of last season, amidst a horror run of injuries for the club. The 21-year-old (he turns 22 while on tour) is loving the extra responsibility and the benefits to himself, but also to the Breakers when he returns for pre-season training on August 28.
“Playing for New Zealand is always special and for me this tour is a chance to learn even more in a leadership role, working closely with Paul and the coaching team to improve my on-court game but also improve as a person and leader off the court, is going to be invaluable for me outside of the Tall Blacks environment and help me tremendously with what I can bring to the Breakers and the ANBL.
“To have such a chance on the international stage at my age is amazing and something I am not taking for granted. Every minute on tour is a chance to improve, and that only helps me when I return to the Breakers this season.”
So with Loe (just married back in the States), Penney, Vukona, Abercombie and Pledger here at home preparing for the upcoming pre-season, the addition of the young guns armed with their most recent Tall Blacks experience is only going to strengthen the club for what promises to be an exciting season.
You can follow the tour via the @TallBlacks twitter handle (there is no live coverage out of China), and then the FIBA Asia Cup via FIBA Youtube and social media (live coverage on Youtube of all games).