The Junior Tall Blacks are all but set to take on the best basketballers at the FIBA U-19 World Cup in Cairo. The team head off tonight and will stop off in China for warm-up games, before continuing on to Egypt.
Auckland's North Shore is a long way from Cairo, but these young men are ready to take on the world.
Forward Taane Samuel (Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Te Rangi) says, “We just wanna get out there and play, and probably prove a point to everyone that we are there to compete. Just like Tai said before, we're not just there to make up numbers.”
Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare was there to farewell the team. Henare impressed by the current squad who may one day feature in his squad.
“They've got their sight set on bigger things, and what a fantastic opportunity that this team has been able to have over the last couple of years,” says Henare.
New Zealand faces Korea, France, and Argentina in their group. It's hard to single out who the toughest opponent is, but the juniors believe that they can beat all three teams.
Samuel says, “I reckon Argentina because in the past I'm pretty sure they've had size, and also France, I've seen a few highlights on France. They're a good team, but I reckon we can match up easily with them."
Jnr Tall Blacks Coach Daryl Cartwright says, "France are basically the favourites with the US. There's some exceptionally talented guys in their group that played in the European Championship."
The Junior Tall Blacks are now looking for a haka leader. There are six Māori players, including the Cameron brothers Tobias and Flynn, and Tai Wynyard who are gunning for that role.
Samuel says, “I think Tai's going to lead it. If not, then I'll put my name forward. It's always good to get out there and lead it, get the mana flowing and all."
The team now turn their focus to their warm-up games against China U-19’s, Lithuania and an American all-star team, before heading to Cairo for the first game against Korea.