Basketball: Tall Blacks open latest pitch to lure Steven Adams on board

 Steven Adams
NBA centre Steven Adams. Photo credit: Getty

The Thunder's early loss may yet be the Tall Blacks' gain, as national men's basketball coach Paul Henare begins his latest pitch to lure Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams into the black singlet for the first time.

Oklahoma City were eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, upset in the first round by the upstart Utah Jazz, suddenly leaving Adams with a little extra off-season time on his hands.

The seven-foot centre has never played for his country at senior level - as a teenager, he look the NZ under-17 team to the verge of a series win over Australia.

But Adams has often assured his fans that when the time is right, he would love to do so.

With a few extra weeks to recover from his exhausting 82-game regular season (plus six playoff outings) and midway through a four-year/US$100 million contract with the Thunder, the timing may not get any better.

"I haven't had confirmation or otherwise from Steve," confirms Henare. "I've only just recently finished, and I'm sure he's busy with their reviews and planning for what his off-season will look like.

"I'm sure it's now a lot longer than he would have liked. I'm sure he'll be back in the country at some stage and I'll reach out to him, and hopefully catch up with him and see where he's at for that June/July window.

"We haven't spoken specifically. We met last year and I spoke with him about what the next two years look like for us, and indicated to him that, timing-wise, this might be a good opportunity for him to play, but nothing further than that."

The Tall Blacks are currently in the midst of a FIBA World Championship qualifying campaign through the Asian zone. Their three wins from four games virtually assure them of progress to the next stage, but their next two outings - against Hong Kong on June 28 and China on July 1, both at home - will still contribute to how many points they take through to the second round.

The Hong Kong fixture is scheduled for Rotorua - Adams' hometown.

"He's aware of that, so I don't need to sell anything to him," Henare confirms. "It's his hometown - that's only happened by chance, I'm sure - but it does seem like a good opportunity."

Regardless of Adams's availability, which the Tall Blacks have never relied on for success, Henare is looking forward to bring other US-based players into camp next month to assess their readiness to contribute.

Adams' NBA success has undoubtedly helped pave the way for other young Kiwis into top college programmes. Many of those have been on the Tall Blacks periphery, without establishing a consistent presence.

"It's an ideal time of year when, theoretically, we should be able to bring in anybody and everybody that's available," says Henare.

"Something we're looking at doing is reaching out to our guys based in the States - Jack Salt, Sam Timmins, Jack Wardenburg, Matt Freeman, Tai Wynyard - all these guys that are playing their trade there at the moment,

"We really want to get as many of these guys back to the camps leading into the first game."

Of these players, Salt has probably built the strongest college career so far, helping University of Virginia to the top-ranking in NCAA basketball, before their shock elimination from the 2018 national tournament first round.

Timmins (Washington) played for the Tall Blacks at last year's FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon, Waardenburg (Miami) and Wynyard (Kentucky) led the Junior Tall Blacks at the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship, while Freeman was part of an Oklahoma Sooners outfit that also lost in the national tournament first round.

Tickets for next month's Hong Kong and China fixtures go on sale Monday.