PITTSBURGH (FIBA Oceania Championship/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Tai Webster knew what he was talking about this past summer when he considered the bright future for the New Zealand Tall Blacks.
The optimism he expressed after his national side's elimination from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Venezuela wasn’t unfounded.
"We're young at the moment," said the 17-year-old Webster, who had dazzled the Poliedro arena with 21 points in a win over Angola, to FIBA.com.
"I guess we've got a long way to go. But we'll be there one day."
It turns out that Tall Blacks fans should not only be excited about Webster, other youngsters in that OQT squad or his teammate from New Zealand's title-winning side at the inaugural FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship in Italy in 2011, Isaac Fotu.
There is also the prospect of having a giant in Steven Adams, a college basketball player in America with the Pittsburgh Panthers, join the national team.
Just as Fotu, who competes for Hawaii, is a freshman, so is the 2.13m Adams while Webster will be one next year with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The Pitt connection
Adams hails from Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand, so he is a long way from home.
The Pitt team is led by Jamie Dixon, the coach of the USA side that won the gold medal at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship in New Zealand.
While Adams didn't play in that event for New Zealand, he did feature in the Kiwi squad that played at the 2009 FIBA U16 Oceania Championship.
Dixon’s connections to New Zealand helped him land Adams.
He had played professional basketball in the country with two of Adams’ brothers.
Dixon was also friends with Kenny McFadden, who runs a basketball academy in the country.
After McFadden alerted Dixon to Adams, the coach sized up his potential and offered him a scholarship.
After finishing with his education in New Zealand, Adams went to Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts last year and is now enrolled at Pitt.
He was named the pre-season Big East Newcomer of the Year.
Before the start of the Panthers’ campaign, Dixon joked in an interview with the Sporting News: “Is this the first time anybody ever was voted for that award by 15 coaches that have never seen him play?”
“He’s the international man of mystery.”
Bigger and stronger
Dixon also said that Adams had worked very hard in the pre-season.
“He’s gotten better at scoring inside,” Dixon said.
“I don’t think that had ever been a strength of his. He’s kind of the international-type player. That’s probably the biggest thing. We had the summer workouts, so none of them are typical freshmen anymore.”
Dixon added that Adams was getting stronger because he was lifting weights for the first time.
“And eating—he’s eating like he’s never eaten before,” Dixon said.
The 19-year-old Adams is averaging 6.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game.
He does something in every outing that bodes well for his future.
On Saturday, he blocked four shots in the team's big win over North Florida.
In their previous game, he had a career-high 14 rebounds to help the Panthers in their blowout victory against Duquesne.
In New Zealand, the movers and shakers in the basketball world will be paying close attention to what happens at Pitt, Hawaii and Nebraska.
With Adams, Webster and Fotu, the future does indeed look promising for the Tall Blacks.