And then there were two
The injury-stricken Tall Blacks camp has received some good news with Los Angeles-born forward Marcel Jones receiving NZ citizenship and joining the competition for a spot on the national men’s team.
Jones (26) attended his induction ceremony in Auckland yesterday morning and then took part in his first Tall Blacks practice, hoping to show coach Nenad Vucinic that he has what it takes to play international basketball.
“I’m just happy the process is over,” he says. “I got declined the first time, but it was a matter of sticking with the process and coming at it from a different angle – they understood.”
Jones arrived in New Zealand three years ago to play for the Manawatu Jets, but hasn’t been able to stay long enough in the country to meet the usual citizenship criteria as he chases professional contracts around the globe.
“It was hard, because I’ve been here and I’ve left, but I’ve always come back. I’m married to a Kiwi, I want to represent the country and I’m committed to the country, but I’ve also got to make a living.”
His first thought when he got the news?
“I get to learn the haka,” he beams. “That was most exciting – I love the haka.
“My Maori is a bit rough around the edges, but I’ll learn it soon enough.”
Jones will now compete with veteran forward Casey Frank for the one naturalised spot available on the team and the pair may soon be joined by American guard Kevin Braswell, still awaiting the result of his citizenship application.
Vucinic has delayed naming his line-up, originally scheduled for today, partly to allow Braswell as much time as possible to receive his clearance. The team will likely be announced on Monday and will leave for Australia next Wednesday.
“We’re all competitors, so we all want to be on the team,” says Jones. “But there’s only one spot and there’s three of us.
“I’m a versatile player – I can guard most positions, I can pass, I can shoot and I can rebound. In Nenad’s system, you have to do your job, so I’m learning how to fit in and find ways to be effective.
“I definitely think I can help and it’ll be up to him to decide what that he needs most.”
Frank has held down the naturalised spot since the 2006 FIBA World Championship, although he was briefly replaced by centre Nick Horvath for the 2008 Olympic qualifying campaign.
But with the emergence of some genuine height among the Kiwi ‘bigs’, led by Alex Pledger and Rob Loe, and the withdrawal of scorers Kirk Penney and Tom Abercrombie, the balance of this roster may be shifting.
Jones could cover Abercrombie’s absence, while Braswell would provide much-needed ball-handling and scoring punch.
“Both Marcel and Kevin have trained with us, and they’re going well,” observes Vucinic. “I wouldn’t really comment on [selection] right now, until we make a decision on Monday, but we could go either way – guard or forward.
“They would all help us – it’s just a matter of getting the most help”
The Tall Blacks will contest the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, from July 2-8, hoping to snatch one of three spots still available at the London Olympics.