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Tall Blacks World Cup campaign suffers huge setback with Mika Vukona injury

"Anything can happen" - that's the message from the Tall Blacks as they set their sights high for the World Cup in China next month.

Unfortunately, that can also be a negative as is the case with long-time captain Mika Vukona, who has been ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.

"We have known for a couple of weeks that Mika was unlikely to get clearance to play, but we all know Mika and wanted to give him as much time as we could to understand full implications of the injury,” head coach Paul Henare said.

"Even knowing we were essentially left with no choice; it was one of the hardest calls I have had to make in my time coaching this team. Few if any others give what Mika has given to this national team over so many years, he is the heartbeat of our group and a leader on and off the court."

The Tall Blacks admit they’ll miss Vukona’s leadership on-court, but Basketball New Zealand is working to ensure his presence is still felt in camp away from the games.

"Mika’s role extends to beyond his influence on court, he can and will still play a vital role in the build-up in working with the playing group, in particular the younger guys on the team.

"We will bring him into the Auckland camp and currently we are exploring options on when and where he can join us during the build-up, without compromising his rehab ahead of the NBL season with the Bullets," said Henare.

The remainder of the squad is focused on carrying on the recent good form of New Zealand at World Cups after the strong performances from both the Black Caps and Silver Ferns.

"We've been working towards this moment for a number of years," guard Tom Abercrombie told 1 NEWS.

"It's nice that that World Cup is in sight and it’s not far away."

The Tall Blacks face some tough competition, though, facing some of the sport's best in Greece, Brazil and Montenegro.

One player in particular has the Tall Black Tai Webster buzzing – the ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won the NBA’s MVP award this season.

"It'll be great to go and see, give him a crack, see what he's really got."

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Basketball NZ is trying to find ways to get the captain involved off the court in China. Source: 1 NEWS


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