Road to Manila: New Zealand announces FIBA OQT roster

MANILA, Philippines – Just as it was difficult for former Tall Blacks head coach Tab Baldwin to trim down his Philippines' roster from 14 to 12, so was it for New Zealand head coach Paul Henare. 

Henare confirmed that New Zealand's roster for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila from July 5 to 10 will be composed of Tom Abercrombie, BJ Anthony, Everard Bartlett, Isaac Fotu, Shea Ili, Michael Karena, Rob Loe, Jordan Ngatai, Derone Raukawa, Mika Vukona, Cory Webster, and Tai Webster.

Cut from the team were forward Finn Delany and shooting guard Ethan Rusbatch.

"You can roll out all the clichés," said Henare. "This is the toughest thing to do as a coach, to leave players out or in this instance, cut them from a group that they have contributed hugely to and become very much a part of in the week that we have been together." 

Both Delany and Rusbatch ply their trade in New Zealand's National Basketball League with Delany manning the forward position for the Nelson Giants while Rusbatch slides between the two- and 3-spots as a swingman for the Canterbury Rams.

Henare added the two will be held in reserve barring any injury to any player in the 12-man New Zealand lineup.

"When we came into camp in Auckland just over a week ago I said that nothing was guaranteed, we had all 14 players booked to fly to Latvia not knowing which two we would have to leave out.

"The entire playing group made this a very tough decision on the back of a great week of training, an unbeaten run in China so far and a further strengthening of our Tall Black culture.

"Both Finn and Ethan will continue to work hard in the event that they might yet be called up for Manila, something that came to play last year when Duane Bailey was struck down with an illness and Dion Prewster stepped in."

New Zealand will parade two newcomers in 5'11" point guard Raukawa, who plays for the Southland Sharks in the NBL, and Karena, also of the Canterbury Rams. 

"I don't like to but if I [were] to single out a guy, Mike Karena has been a surprise package for me," said Henare.

"I like the physicality and the inside presence that he is giving us right now. The feel in this group is good, they have worked superbly over the short time we have had together, everyone knows the road we are on and the lofty goal we have set for ourselves, but in true Tall Black style we are working hard and have each other's backs as we pursue our Olympic dream.

"I have no doubt we can achieve it and that these young men will do themselves, their families, and the game of basketball in New Zealand proud."

Before traveling to Manila on Thursday, June 30, for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the Tall Blacks will face Lithuania at the Svyturio Arena on Wednesday, June 29.

New Zealand is in Group B along with France and the Philippines for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. – Rappler.com