Te Rangi hints at JTB upset
Junior Tall Blacks captain Reuben Te Rangi has already had an incredible 12 months, but he hopes there’s more to come when his team face Australia in this month’s FIBA U19 Oceania Championships at Porirua.
Last September, alongside teenage Tall Blacks Isaac Fotu and Tai Webster, he helped New Zealand capture the inaugural FIBA 3×3 Youth World Championship in Italy.
He was named MVP of the Nike All-Asia Camp at Guangzhou, China, in June and took out Rookie of the Year honours in the National Basketball League. The Harbour Heat forward led the competition in three-point shooting accuracy for most of the season, but went 3/15 over the last two weeks to eventually finish third with 44.3%.
Last week, he was awarded an NZ Breakers development contract, an indication that maybe he’s decided against the US college career path as he enters the professional ranks.
But Te Rangi is eying up September 20-22 as another potential highlight of his junior career – New Zealand’s first series victory over Australia at junior level to qualify for next year’s world championships in the Czech Republic.
It has a nice ring to it and as skipper – if it’s to happen – he knows he must be a major contributor.
“Captaincy is a big honour to my last name and I know my family is pretty stoked,” says Te Rangi. “I’ve got to lead by example and lead the team to victory, hopefully.
“It’s one of the first times I’ve been captain and it’s come with the Junior Tall Blacks, so it’s a new experience for me.”
While the two formats are very different, Te Rangi’s success at the 3×3 tournament shows New Zealand has some raw talent within its age-group ranks – the challenge is producing enough and with the right mental approach to translate into the traditional five-a-side game.
“Basketball in New Zealand is hopefully getting there,” he says. “Winning the world title was a good experience, especially since we were underdogs as usual.
“I guess it gave all the other New Zealand teams confidence that they could compete at that level too.
“Three-on-three is really up-tempo – you’ve got to work on every possession. If I can bring that into this team and show it to the other players, we can do pretty well.”
The Kiwis have had a look at their opponents from across the Tasman at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Germany. And while the JTBs couldn’t muster a win from their six games, the Emus weren’t quite as polished as usual either in finishing 10th.
“This year, we have a chance,” says Te Rangi, who remembers getting his butt kicked as the baby of the 2010 Junior Tall Blacks team. “That Australian team was unbelievable two years ago, but this year, we’ve looked at the stats and we’re pretty even.
“We just have to scout them and know them inside out, and we’ll have a good shot at them.
“That would be just as cool as winning the world title. No one’s ever done that before – going to the world champs would be a whole new experience.”