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Where others see very much a group of death, Tall Blacks coach Pero Cameron prefers a more positive outlook on the challenge his team has been handed at the upcoming Fiba World Cup.
The ping-pong balls were certainly not kind for Cameron’s New Zealanders at Sunday’s draw for the World Cup that will take place between August 25 and September 10 in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
The New Zealanders drew very much the toughest assignment possible, landing in Group C in Manila alongside perennial title favourites the United States, the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Greece and a highly capable Jordan outfit, with only the top two advancing to the second stage of the main competition.
It is the only pool in the tournament to have two teams ranked in the world’s top 10 (the USA are inexplicably No 2 and Greece 9), and when you factor in a highly competitive Tall Blacks outfit (26) and a Jordan (33) side that will welcome back a couple of big stars from Europe, it shapes as the toughest of the tournament.
Maybe Australia challenges that, landing in a competitive pool E alongside Germany (world No 11), Finland (24) and Japan (36), and Group H also shapes as intriguing with Canada (15), Latvia (29) and France (5) set to battle it out for the top two spots. But neither contains the top-end quality of the Tall Blacks’ rivals.
Still, from Cameron’s perspective it’s less a “group of death” and more a pool of opportunity as his Tall Blacks face having to beat one of the true heavyweights of the world game just to make it to the top 16 for the second stage of qualifying play.
“I think everybody knows it’s a tough challenge, but I think our guys are loving the fact they’re having a crack at possibly the best team,” Cameron told Stuff on Monday. “That’s on everyone’s mind – to go out there and accept that challenge and put the best foot forward.
“There’s nothing negative to take in. It’s accepting the challenge and preparing in a way to go meet it, and take that challenge head-on.”
In effect the New Zealanders, who have never managed to be competitive with the USA on the global stage, will have to defeat world No 9-ranked Greece to stay alive in the tournament. That’s a challenging task indeed with the European heavyweights led by Antetokounmpo who is regarded as one of the top three players on the planet.
But they are not without hope. The two sides clashed at the last World Cup in China in 2019, with Greece prevailing 103-97 and pushed to the limit by the New Zealanders.
”We’re always a shot, mate. That’s what sport is about,” added Cameron. “It’s competition. It doesn’t matter how great you were or how good you are, it’s can you get it done on the day? That’s what we’ll be focusing on.
“It is what it is. It’s a tough draw, but when has it never been tough for us? We’ve got to man up, get ready for it and the most important thing is we prepare ourselves first. We’ve got a lot of games, and a lot of training in front of us, and then we’ll start getting on top of the teams we’re playing.
“We’re focused on the planning, how we train, and what’s in front of us first, and as we get closer to the tournament we’ll start addressing those things. Right now we need to find ourselves and have our own identity. There are some things that need to be done first.”
Cameron said the buildup campaign was still being finalised, but it was planned to have games in Europe and Asia leading in. The first training squad would be assembled after the NBL finals in July.
He is still awaiting confirmation of the availability of his Europe and Asia-based players, but hopes to have a full slate on deck.
However one he now knows he won’t have is NBA star Steven Adams, confirmed by the Memphis Grizzlies as needing a full summer to rehab the knee that ruled him out for the back part of the season. As revealed recently by Stuff, Adams was strongly considering making himself available for the first time in his career.
”It’s one of those things you’ve gt to navigate,” shrugged the Tall Blacks coach. “We’re always dealing with interruptions. He is massive for Memphis as well, and we saw what him not being able to play did for them. He’s playing amazing basketball which we did see this year, and it would have been great to have with us.
“But we understand with sport these things happen. It’s turned into a very serious knee injury, and I just wish him a speedy recovery.”
Fiba World Cup pools:
Group A: Angola, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Italy. Group B: South Sudan, Serbia, China, Puerto Rico. Group C: US, Jordan, Greece, New Zealand. Group D: Egypt, Mexico. Montenegro, Lithuania.
Goup E: Germany, Finland, Australia, Japan. Group F: Slovenia, Cape Verde, Georgia, Venezuela. Group G: Iran, Spain, Ivory Coast, Brazil. Group H: Canada, Latvia, Lebanon, France.