New Zealand have done well to finish third in their Pool at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup, despite being outmatched overnight.
On a day that hit a high of 37 degrees, New Zealand were tasked with taking on two top seeds, the US (4) and the Netherlands (5).
Head Coach Anthony Corban says he heavily scouted the US team the day before.
This was a team who could shoot freely and score easily outside the arc.
A plan was put in place, but Anthony says it was rapidly forgotten by the Kiwis as they struggled to match their opponents in testing conditions.
"The US team had three specialist two-point shooters. We knew we couldn’t give open looks to them from the three point line. We also knew what offensive sets they were going to run off elbow catches. So our plan was to stay attached to their bigs in catches and dribble hand-off situations.
"But somewhere between the walk from the players tent to the playing arena, everything was erased from the players memories. What made matters worse was Aaron Bailey-Nowell suffered a bad ankle sprain during the game."
Anthony says the Kiwis were thrown by 'singlet holding' off the ball, and 'singlet holding' when New Zealand were running on-balls and attacking the rim. Bailey-Nowell did especially well to stand up against the scrappy play, but generally the Kiwis were hustled, tussled and out played by the professional Stateside street ballers. The US advanced, downing New Zealand 6 to 21.
After a stern conversation, the players returned to court just over an hour later for game two against The Netherlands.
This was a better performance from the Kiwis, but Corban said they struggled after Bailey-Nowell’s bad luck continued.
"We were down to three players for the last two minutes of the game. Again Aaron took a stand against the opposition for the continued hooking and singlet holding on and off the ball. Unfortunately he was called for a questionable unsportsmanlike foul and had to leave the Arena.
"We battled hard and got within two points of the opposition. But I was disappointed with the way we finished the game, not even contesting jump shots and allowing three easy baskets. However this heat and humidity can be draining and we were clearly outsized by a big Netherlands team."
New Zealand finished their tournament with a win over South Korea and three losses, including their first match shock to Indonesia.
"I honestly thought we could win both games on our opening day, and roll the dice and knock over one of these teams in day three of the tournament," said Corban, but it was a tough ask for the Kiwis.
"The Netherlands have travelled Europe for the last month playing World Tour qualifying events in preparation for this World Cup. Indonesia also played a series of tournaments in Asia to prepare this event. It's this preparation that Coach Corban says is so desperately needed to compete at this level.
"The physicality of 3x3 suits New Zealand athletes. The only way New Zealand can compete and beat leading nations in the open men's World Cup is playing a series of tournaments before the event.
"Whether they be in Asia or Europe, it's the best way for our players to get used to the holding and hooking on and off the ball, and then start giving it back to the opposition. However that is expensive. So there's a lot to consider as we look to a possible berth at the 2020 Olympics."
The players will return to New Zealand now, while Coach Corban will fly to Chengdu, China, to meet up with his age-group team for the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup, 28 June – 2 July. That team will be announced publically later this week.