With the 19th edition of the FIBA Basketball World Cup beginning on August 25th, there follows a look at the rosters for each of the 32 teams taking part. This instalment looks at the team from New Zealand, making its seventh appearance in a World Cup out of a possible 20.
- PG – 6’0 – Born 6th October 1992
- Melbourne United, Australia
At the top of this list and at the head of the snake of the roster is by far the Tall Blacks’ best guard. Ili is a quality two-way player, a very willing passer and a fearless defender perfectly willing to try and slow those eight inches taller than him. Last season for the United, Ili averaged 8.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 23.6 minutes per game, averages that do not nearly do justice to his presence on the court. Despite usually being the smallest player on the thing, Ili is also one of the most active, a creative passer who snakes into the lane with his quickness/good change of speed, and shoots his unconventional quick-release jumpers at a decent clip, all the while saving his best work for the defensive end. Ili defends with his feet more than his hands, staying low, getting in front, making great reads and using his strength, even though he does not have much of it. Ili applies tons of pressure on opposing ball-handlers, hustles about the place, and is always in motion on both ends. There are others with better pull-up games and scoring bags; there are many others with greater size. But there are not many better defenders.
- PG – 6’2 – Born 22nd September 1996
- Canterbury Rams, New Zealand
Whereas almost everyone else on this last has done the shuffle between the Australian NBL and the New Zealand NBL – as will become confusingly apparent further down this article – Britt has mostly stayed at home. Brief trips to Oz with the Perth Wildcats saw him barely get off the bench; instead, he has been with the Canterbury Rams since 2014, where last season he averaged 9.5 points and 4.0 assists in 19 games. Those numbers do not stand out, and nor does Britt on the court, an unathletic below-the-rim guard with no size and average quickness who does not wow with his shooting, defence or even his passing at first glance. What he does do though is keep, on, coming. Britt may not be able to make defences dance to his tune, but he can keep the dribble alive until he gets his own way, and continues to probe and squirm until he creates either a passing angle or a banker for himself. It is not a spectacular offering. But then, when was that ever a requirement from the back-up point guard on your roster?
- PG/SG – 6’2 – Born 7th November 1996
- New Zealand Breakers, Australia
Often known as just Le’afa to save space, Izayah is another New Zealander to have gone from the American college system to Australia’s NBL via impressive performances in New Zealand’s NBL. Specifically, in his first NZNBL season with the Auckland Huskies after graduating from Sacramento State in 2020, Mauriohooho-Le’Afa won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year season after averaging 2.5 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game, along with an enormous 20.5 points and 5.2 assists a night. That’s how you start a pro career.
No mere bench player in Australia, Le’Afa started 24 games for the Breakers last season and averaged 10.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game, shooting 40.7% from the field and 36.3% from three on a high .607 three-point rate. He is not a pick-and-roll point guard yet, though he is improving as one every season, to go along with plenty of pedigree as an off-screen movement shooter and consistent spot-up threat. He is, simply, a good and willing shooter, if an undersized one. Yet even if he never scores a point, though, Le’Afa’s defensive energy and hands go a long way to impacting a game.
- SG – 6’4 – Born 23rd May 2003
- Tasmania JackJumpers, Australia
Brown is the country’s best prospect since Yanni Wetzell, and is off to a good start to his pro career. Entrusted with a 30.1 minutes per game workload this past NBL season with the Canterbury Rams despite still being teenage, Brown responded with averages of 9.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 blocks per game, while also shooting 36.8% from three-point range. The tools are clearly there, then, for an excellent three-and-D profile. As for what he can achieve beyond that, it depends on how he develops as a ball-handler; so far, Brown has not shown much of that, gravitating towards running to the wings and filling the lanes in transition, while crashing the offensive glass like a mad man. At only a decently-athletic 6’4, though, he will surely need to add more secondary ball-handling, probing and ability to get to his spot with the ball in his hands if he is to achieve a high level, because the world’s top leagues have 6’8 guys doing what Walter does that they can turn to. Definite kudos should go to Brown, though, for his fearless and tenacity. One to monitor.
- SG – 6’5 – Born 30th June 2000
- Melbourne United, Australia
The son of Tall Blacks legend Pero Cameron – who is also coaching this team – Flynn did not inherit his father’s height, but he does have a great frame for a shooting guard, and has developed a skill set to match. He just completed his fifth and final season of NCAA Division I play, the final three of which came with UC Riverside after two with DePaul, and averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, punctuated by a very nice 40.9% three-point shooting stroke on more than six attempts per game.
Having consistently gotten better across those five seasons, Cameron will now begin his professional career with the United, who have landed themselves a very capable offensive player. Along with his 97th percentile spot-up shooting, Cameron moves off the ball for jumpers just as much (and as well) as he takes turns on it, more of a 2/1 than a 1/2 but a decent passer and reliable handler when taking turns as the primary playmaker. Poised for his age and sharp on defence, Cameron has a well-rounded package of skills and decent decision-making skills. The question now will be how well that package plays as the opposition around him get bigger, better and more athletic on a nightly basis. This World Cup was the first of many tests of that.
Reuben Te Rangi
- SG/SF – 6’7 – Born 14th October 1994
- South East Melbourne Phoenix, Australia
A veteran of the Australia/New Zealand dual NBL pincer movement, Te Rangi has now played 11 full seasons in Australia and 12 at home. For a 28 year old, then, he is extremely experienced, even before counting his many runs with the national team. In 2022/23, he averaged 17.7 minutes, 5.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game, alongside putting in 19.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game for the Auckland Tuatara in NZNBL play. Te Rangi’s best asset is his rangy defence (pun extremely deliberate), and in an excellent frame for a wing, he can guard the two through four spots, providing positional flexibility. It is not a gamble-heavy defence; it is instead committed and disciplined, staying in front and bumping without an excessive foul rate. Offensively, the jump shot is inconsistent from game to game (and also from season to season) despite nice form, and the handle in traffic is minimal, so it is mostly cuts, spots and leak-outs for Reuben, except when he is playing for the Tuatara, when apparently he turns into Jayson Tatum.
- SF/PF – 6’8 – Born 3rd June 1996
- Perth Wildcats, Australia
Like most young forwards from the Australia/New Zealand talent pipelines, Harris has sought to stick on an Australian NBL roster. But unlike most others, he has managed it. After averaging 3.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 10.9 minutes per game for Adelaide last season – alongside putting in 13.5 points 9.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in the offseason for the Hawke’s Bay Hawks in the offseason back in New Zealand – Harris has won a two-year with Bryce Cotton’s Perth Wildcats that will take him into his prime years. Harris has been able to carve out his own spot in this way on account of his own shifty face-up game; with a nice handle for one his size, Harris snakes to the rim in both the half-court and transition, through dexterity more than foot speed. He runs at every opportunity without being fast, finishes well at the rim despite not being an athlete, and pairs it with some post touches and lefty jumpers. When Hyrum Harris is playing, there are a lot of bankers, languid drives, cuts, extra passes and excessive defensive rotations. The first few of those offset the last.
- SF/PF – 6’7 – Born 12th August 1995
- New Zealand Breakers, Australia
One-time Dallas Mavericks summer league invitee Delany has eschewed the usual dual-NBL rotation to instead try and make his way in the wider world. He did not of course make the roster, but Delany did return to the Breakers and improve every season, before spending the 2022/23 campaign in Germany with Basketball Champions League winners, Telekom Baskets Bonn. On that Bonn roster, Delany fit in nicely as a finisher alongside the torrent of attacking basketball that is T.J. Shorts, averaging 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds on a variable shot profile. An off-ball mover and good athlete, Delany is strong and aggressive on the roll, an efficient finisher and useful if not elite catch-and-shoot jump shooter. The bulk of his growth from a project into a leading player on this roster has come defensively, where the foul-prone and somewhat position-less young man has cut down on the positional mistakes significantly. Perhaps done with his European/NBA sojourns now, Delany will return to the Breakers for the next two seasons, but it was no mere holiday; he improved on his travels, and proved himself against good opposition.
- SG/SF – 6’6 – Born 7th March 1993
- Hawke’s Bay Hawks, New Zealand
Ngatai was in the Australian NBL every year between 2014 and 2022, but never truly broke through as a rotation player, so last season he stuck to the NZNBL only. He promptly put in his best season to date, averaging 16.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Ngatai is a big lefty wing who can post and pass, but more importantly, he can shoot from outside, an area of his game that he turns to more with each passing year. Lacking for a high level of athleticism or being able to dribble from the arc to the rim against traffic consistently, Ngatai instead either backs defenders down or shoots over them. It works.
- PF – 6’8 – Born 18th December 1993
- Tochigi Brex, Japan
Dan’s brother Isaac has five and a half years on him, and if Dan goes down the same career trajectory over the five and a half to come, he will have done well for himself, as Isaac is having a nice career. Going pro after his sophomore season with Hawaii back in 2014, Fotu has played in Spain, Germany, Italy and Japan, including the last two years with Brex, averaging 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds in 58 games in 2022/23. Without being a great athlete, Fotu plays an inside/outside game at 6’8, doing the bulk of his work in the paint and doing so extremely efficiently with good footwork and hook shots, while also adding more of a pick-and-pop jump shot every season. Poised, skilled and smooth, Fotu is an offensive hub with his finishing ability, paint creation and short roll passing. It is harder to find good defensive match-ups for him, admittedly.
- PF – 6’9 – Born 6th October 1995
- South East Melbourne Phoenix, Australia
Smith-Milner has spent his entire career in the dual NBL cycle, although early signs that he would become a rotation player in the Australian version have not really come to fruition. For the Phoenix last season, for example, he averaged only 5.6 minutes per game. That was still enough for 2.3 points per game, however, which speaks to Smith-Milner’s offensive usefulness, much of which comes from his athletic profile. Despite running a bit like Donald Duck and having a fairly stocky frame, Smith-Milner covers ground well and offers verticality over the top of the defence; when on the ground, he rolls, spots up from three-point range and also shoots very quick-release floaters and hooks when in the lane, akin to Antawn Jamison in his prime. The limitations are more on the defensive end; ducks do not have great lateral quickness as a general rule, and the offensive verticality does not apply to contests in the lane for whatever reason. Nonetheless, Smith-Milner is a talented player who provides an offensive option on every trip, no matter which area of the halfcourt he is in.
- PF/C – 6’10 – Born 8th July 1996
- ALBA Berlin, Germany
Graduating from San Diego State in 2020, Wetzell was in the EuroLeague within a year and a half. It took only two short Australian NBL seasons before he was brought on board by Baskonia, and then he moved to ALBA Berlin last season, where he dropped 9.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.6 blocks in only 17.9 minutes per game. For his size, Wetzell moves very well, which he uses to get out in transition while constantly rolling to the rim. College being college, San Diego State put him in the post far more than on the roll, and he still retains some ability to do that, yet Wetzell on the roll is far more effective, finishing above the tin and making nice passes when in motion as well. Although he is not a shooter with range, Wetzell is an option every trip down with his screens, mobility and footwork, as well as his great non-dunk touch within the paint. A greater commitment to the positioning side of defensive rebounding plus enhanced shooting range would help, yet Wetzell is a huge piece for this Tall Blacks roster for the next decade.
- C – 6’11 – Born 23rd March 1997
- Sydney Kings, Australia
Despite starting all 34 games he played as a sophomore for the Washington Huskies in 2017/18, Timmins graduated two years later as a mere 7.8 minute per game player off the bench. His career had stagnated and needed a restart. So he went home and got one. Seven years after he made his debut in the New Zealand NBL at the mere age of 15, Timmins returned to it for the 2020 season, and after playing there plus a stint in Estonia, he won his way into the big brother NBL in Australia, where he remains to date.
To be fair, Timmins is not a rotation player in Australia. He instead continues to do his best work when back at home, such as with the 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 blocks per game he averaged for the Otago Nuggets. Of course, 6’11 is always an asset, but it is slightly limited by the fact that Timmins is neither a great athlete nor a hugely strong player. Nevertheless, he counters this with intelligence and good decision-making, particularly in his passing and rolling. There is not much of a jumper at this stage and the dribble-driving is limited to mostly dribble hand-offs, yet the post touches and hitting of cutters expands the playbook, while the size takes up space on defence. On this team, he adds dimensions.
(Note: Announced as being on the preliminary roster, Timmins was cut from the final 12-man line-up. I had however already written this, so included it anyway.)
Group A: Italy, Angola, Philippines, Dominican Republic
Group B: China, Serbia, Puerto Rico, South Sudan
Group C: USA, Greece, Jordan, New Zealand
Group D: Egypt, Mexico, Lithuania, Montenegro
Group E: Germany, Finland, Australia, Japan
Group F: Slovenia, Cape Verde, Georgia, Venezuela
Group G: Iran, Spain, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire
Group H: Canada, Latvia, France, Lebanon