NEW Zealand won’t be playing in the Fiba Olympic Qualifying Tournament until the second day of the tournament. But for coach Paul Henare, it’s an outright knockout match right there and then for the Tall Blacks.
The Kiwis will open their campaign in the meet against Gilas Pilipinas on Wednesday in a game which their mentor said would have an immediate say on whether they’ll get a serious crack at the lone berth at stake for the Rio De Janeiro Summer Games.
“It’s the biggest game on the other side of the bracket (of the tournament),” said the 37-year-old former Tall Black on the prospects of his team’s 9 p.m. showdown with the host at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“The winner of the game will more likely get through the semifinals. It’s kind of like a quarterfinals in some ways,” he added.
New Zealand is bracketed with the Philippines in Group B, along with powerhouse France, which the Kiwis face on Thursday for their final game.
The Filipinos and Les Bleus tangle in the opener on Tuesday at 9 p.m. in the main game of a featured doubleheader that will have Canada and Turkey battling each other in the first game scheduled at 6:30 p.m.
With Tony Parker and a slew of NBA players in its roster, France, ranked no. 5 in the world, is fancied to top Group A, power its way past the rest of the field and, book a trip to Rio.
Henare said he would rather have the Tall Blacks pour everything right on its very first game against Gilas.
“It’s gonna be a huge game, and our guys will be ready for it,” said the New Zealand coach, a former player of Gilas mentor Tab Baldwin.
“The Philippines, Gilas, they will be supported by a lot of fans and it’s gonna be a special night.”
Before coming over, the Tall Blacks played tune-up matches in China (Atlas tournament) and then in Europe against teams from Iran, Latvia, and Lithuania in which New Zealand got mixed results.
“But our focus was to make sure we learn from all our games to be in the best shape possible for our first game against the Philippines,” said Henare.