New Zealand Name Undersized Squad for FIBA World Cup

Jeff CheshireAnalyst IIAugust 19, 2014

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 19: Mika Vukona of New Zealand leads the haka during the international match between the New Zealand Tall Blacks and South Korea at North Shore Events Centre on July 19, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand have cut their 14-man squad to 12 ahead of the FIBA World Cup, due to start at the end of the month. The team has a distinctly undersized look to it, with two big men, Nick Horvath and Tai Wynyard, being the two men to miss the final cut.

Head coach Nenad Vucinic said Horvath was the toughest player to leave out. With the eligibility rules only allowing one naturalized player to turn out for each team, one of Casey Frank and Nick Horvath was going to miss out. 

Vucinic cited Frank's experience with the Tall Blacks' as the key factor in the decision. That is fair enough, but it also questionable why Horvath has not been preferred for the past five years. He has consistently been one of the top players in the New Zealand NBL and has continually been overlooked.

While Frank is a gritty player who will fight hard, he will struggle to rebound and score, from anywhere other than the perimeter, the way he does in the NBL. Horvath's extra size may have been the way to go, particularly if Wynyard was also to be left out. 

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 19:  Casey Frank of New Zealand celebrates during the international match between the New Zealand Tall Blacks and South Korea at North Shore Events Centre on July 19, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty
Phil Walter/Getty Images

In some ways cutting the 16-year-old Wynyard was the obvious choice; in some ways though, it may have been better to take him. Inevitably such a young player is going to struggle playing international basketball. The 6' 8", 230 lbs forward would undoubtedly struggle with the physicality and speed of the game.

That said, the squad that has been named lacks size and it would perhaps be useful to have a body there if it was needed. Without their two seven-footers, Steven Adams and Alex Pledger, there are very few other big men available to New Zealand. 

Wynyard impressed in his rookie season in the New Zealand NBL, where he played with the best in the country and more than held his own. More recently he has been involved with the Tall Blacks' World Cup build-up and proved a useful player at times, showing great strength and finishing ability in the home series against South Korea.

His time will come. To even be at this stage at his age is impressive, being ahead of where Oklahoma City Thunder centre, Steven Adams, was at the same age.

The team will look to veteran shooting guard Kirk Penney for the bulk of their points. For the past decade he has been the team's go-to player, possessing a deadly outside jump shot and the ability to pull-up from mid-range.  

In the 2010 FIBA World Championships he finished second among the tournament's scoring leaders, with 24.7 points per game. 2014 will be his fourth World Championships, making him the only surviving player from the team which finished fourth in 2002.

Kirk Penney will be the key man for New Zealand once again.
Kirk Penney will be the key man for New Zealand once again.Phil Walter/Getty Images

Complementing him in the back court will be veteran point guard, Lindsay Tait, and the Webster brothers, Corey and Tai.

Tait brings composure and experience. While a top scorer in the NBL, he will be used more as a distributor in this team. The Websters are both confident, athletic scorers. Tai Webster comes off his freshman season in college with Nebraska, meaning he should be able to cope with the intensity of the occasion despite still being relatively young.

The forward spots are filled by a group of players who do not lack for intensity, but are clearly undersized. Mika Vukona is your quintessential hustle player, a man who will chase down rebounds, go after loose balls and does not mind getting involved physically on defence. He will be complemented in the starting line-up by the athletic Tom Abercrombie, a solid scorer who can get to the hoop.

Beneath these two there are two youngsters in Rob Loe and Isaac Fotu who are both exciting prospects for New Zealand. Earlier this year Loe completed his senior year at the University of St. Louis with two strong performances at the NCAA Tournament. He is a skilful big man who can shoot, while also is developing more of an inside game.

Fotu on the other hand comes off an outstanding sophomore year at Hawaii, having been named in the All-Big West First Team. He is a very good inside-out player, being an outstanding rebounder, possessing a strong post-game and being a good passer. In the recent home series against South Korea he was very impressive.

Isaac Fotu is one of the best prospects in New Zealand basketball.
Isaac Fotu is one of the best prospects in New Zealand basketball.Phil Walter/Getty Images

Expect these two youngsters to see plenty of game time too, as alongside Frank, they are the only players over 6'6" on this team.

It is this lack of size which will undoubtedly hurt the Tall Blacks. While there is talent in New Zealand basketball, there are too many players missing, namely Adams and Pledger, for them to truly compete with the top teams.

If these two were available, the team would have a far more competitive look to it. Not only are both seven-footers, but it would provide them with depth which is lacking in the lower spots on their roster.

Everard Bartlett and Jarrod Kenny are both good NBL players but will struggle on the world stage, while at 6'6" BJ Anthony will be too small inside and too slow outside.

In reality it was probably always going to be a couple of years too soon for New Zealand. They have plenty of up-and-coming talent, but it is not quite ready to compete just yet.

Adams, Wynyard, Fotu and Loe all have tremendous potential to form a dominant front-court, as does Virginia recruit Jack Salt and athletic schoolboy Matt Freeman.

With the Webster brothers set to only get better in the back court, it is exciting times for New Zealand basketball.

But it may not be until the next World Cup that the world really sees what they are capable of. 

You can be sure they will fight hard in Spain this year. New Zealand basketball is known for its physicality, as the NBA discovered with the arrival of Adams in the league last season.

They find themselves in a Group they are capable of getting out of. Ukraine and Finland are both games they will be targeting, while they will not be pushovers for Turkey or the Dominican Republic. The USA might be asking too much though, although this would have been the case even with their first-choice team.