06/14/2018 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/14/2018 06:18
ROTORUA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Shea Ili has thrived as a point guard with the New Zealand Tall Blacks in the past year, at both the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 and in the World Cup Qualifiers.
The 25-year-old has done so well, in fact, even making the All-Star Five at the Asia Cup in Lebanon, that he's captured the attention of NBA scouts and received an invite to a mini-camp with the Dallas Mavericks this month.
Ili was still named on Thursday in New Zealand's squad for their World Cup Qualifiers against Hong Kong in Rotorua (June 28) and China in Auckland (July 1), but he'll miss the national team camp in Wellington that runs from June 17-21 since it will be held when he is demonstrating his skills for the Mavs.
Ili will return in time, however, to face Hong Kong and China as the Kiwis go after a couple of vital wins. And his presence will be crucial since point guard Tai Webster isn't available for the third window. Webster's brother, Corey, arguably New Zealand's best player, is also uncertain.
According to Basketball New Zealand, the governing body is 'seeking a release from his team (Guizho) in China for the duration of the FIBA window.'
The Tall Blacks and China enter the third window with 3-1 records, though the New Zealanders are first in Group A since they beat the China, 82-73, in February.
In that game, Tai and Corey Webster each had 18 points.
If Corey Webster does not play, Tall Blacks will still have plenty of experience since Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Rob Loe, Isaac Fotu, Jarrod Kenny, Reuben Te Rangi, Jordan Ngatai and Finn Delany are all in the squad.
Alex Pledger is unavailable for the third window and will be a glaring absentee after averaging 11 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Tall Blacks in their first four Qualifiers.
At the training camp, New Zealand coach Paul Henare and his assistant, FIBA Hall of Famer and Tall Blacks legend Pero Cameron, will get a good look at other promising talents. Among them are three players that helped the Tall Blacks finish third at the FIBA Asia Cup 2017: Tohi Smith-Milner, Ethan Rusbatch and Derone Raukawa.
There will also be several that have been playing college basketball in the United States at the camp. They are Jack Salt, Cameron's son Tobias, Jackson Stent and Isaac Letoa. Letoa featured at last summer's Asia Cup before beginning his career at Ivy League side Dartmouth.
'MIKA HAS BEEN MY IDOL FOR SO LONG. JUST WATCHING HIM PLAY AND THEN HAVING THE CHANCE TO SPEND A SEASON WITH HIM AT THE BREAKERS AND TALL BLACKS, HE IS AN AMAZING LEADER AND PLAYER.'Jack Salt
Salt, who stands 6ft 10in (2.08m) and starts for ACC powerhouse Virginia in American college basketball, is excited about taking part. He was a member of the New Zealand team that played at the FIBA Oceania Championship five years ago as a 17-year-old.
'I know both games are big for us and can count towards the World Cup, and I think it will be huge for us to go and get a win on home soil,' Salt said. 'This will be a big game, but for me the excitement at the moment is just about trialing for the team.'
Vukona, Salt says, is the player that he has looked up to over the years and is relishing the chance to train alongside him.
Vukona's leadership and hustle are always important for New Zealand
'Mika has been my idol for so long,' he said. 'Just watching him play and then having the chance to spend a season with him at the Breakers and Tall Blacks, he is an amazing leader and player.'
If the muscular 22-year-old Salt doesn't end up making the final roster, he will definitely compete for the Tall Blacks in big games down the road. His strengths now are rebounding and defense.
'Physically I have matured in my body a little bit, and I am more aware of myself and being at the school I am at, my defense has improved, the defense we play is very demanding and I have picked up those tendencies,' he said.
'WE HAVE SO MANY TALENTED YOUNG PLAYERS - BOYS AND GIRLS, CURRENTLY IN THE AMERICAN COLLEGE SYSTEM. THE TIMING IS PERFECT FOR US TO INVITE SEVERAL OF THEM IN TO THIS CAMP AND FOR THEM TO PUT THEIR HANDS UP FOR TALL BLACKS SELECTION.'Henare
'I am trying to be aggressive and finish on the inside. It is a little bit of everything, I am just looking to polish off my game during my time in the States and I can't wait to go up against the guys in a trial situation.'
Henare is looking forward to the third window, although Oklahoma City Thunder center Steve Adams has elected to make himself unavailable again. There remains a lot to be excited about.
'We have so many talented young players - boys and girls, currently in the American College system,' he said. 'The timing is perfect for us to invite several of them in to this camp and for them to put their hands up for Tall Blacks selection. I can't wait to see the development in Jack, Jackson, Tobias and Isaac in the time they have been away, and to further integrate them into our national team culture.'