Tall Blacks finally appreciated after ending up as crowd darlings of Manila OQT
New Zealand mentor Paul Henare and former coach Tab Baldwin share some light moment during the semifinals of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila. Jerome Ascano

JEERS welcomed New Zealand in its campaign in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but on Saturday the Tall Blacks finally heard the cheers and appreciation from the Filipino crowd.

The Tall Blacks ended their bid for a spot in the Rio De Janeiro Olympics in a competitive manner, bowing to Canada, 78-72, in the semifinal round of the Manila qualifiers.

The campaign capped a whirlwind week for New Zealand, which had to endure the heckling of some Filipino fans when it did the haka war dance during the pregame against home team Gilas Pilipinas.

The incident had its backlash, as the issue also reached New Zealand. But coach Paul Henare said the team was unaffected by what happened.

“The boos, I would expect those playing against the home team,” said Henare. “That’s fine.”

Still, New Zealand played respectably in the tournament, including in its loss to Canada, where the Filipino crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena was obviously on the side of the Tall Blacks.

Regardless of the pregame incident with Gilas, Henare had always knew how passionate Filipino fans are to basketball.

“I’ve seen all along the first time I was here that Filipino fans are outstanding. Maybe the cheers tonight was an appreciation of how they played,” said Henare, who later got a chance to chat with Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin.

As its campaign in the qualifiers came to a close, Henare said he will still cherish the experience of having played in the Philippines.

“It’s great to experience this as a team, as a nation.  I’ll remember this experience and hopefully, I’ll be back soon,” Henare said.

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