James Hunter prepares to take on hosts Lebanon

Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare addresses his troops. Photo: BASKETBALL NEW ZEALAND

Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare addresses his troops. Photo: BASKETBALL NEW ZEALAND

CAMBEWARRA’S James Hunter and his Tall Blacks know the enormity of the task facing them when they play hosts Lebanon in the second pool match at the FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut, tipping off at 4am Friday AEDT.

The team has recovered well from the first-up win over Kazakhstan, with a session in the pool in the morning, and then on court for an hour in the afternoon - with the focus switching to the well supported and much hyped Lebanese national team.

Lebanon impressed in their first up victory over Korea, in front of a hugely partisan crowd that cheered their every move, such is the investment of passion and hope in the home team.

Head coach Paul Henare has spoken to his team about how best to cope in such an environment.

“Something we have spoken about a lot during this trip is to enjoy each moment, to somehow find a way to relax, take it all in and at the same time perform to your best,” Henare said.

“The Lebanon game is going to be fun - for some of this group it will be like nothing else they have ever experienced and who knows, they might not experience the like again in their careers.

“That is nothing to get uptight about though, you have to play this game with a passion but you have to play for the right reasons and enjoy each challenge.

“You can’t control the crowd, so why try?

“Embrace the noise, embrace the hostility and play though it, knowing that you have prepared the best you can and that your team mates have your back, as well as all the support we know there is back home in New Zealand.”

As for the opposition, they have some obvious weapons that the Tall Blacks will have to counter, including legendary Fadi El Khatib, the 38-year-old is revered in these parts and is appearing in what may well be his international swansong.

But it was point guard Wael Arakji who steered his team to the win over Korea, with 22 points on 9 of 12 shooting, including 2 of 3 from deep.

Henare though knows the danger of locking in too much on one or two players and forgetting your own game plan.

“They have some quality players and Arakji was the best on the floor against Korea,” he said.

“He dictates the pace of the game superbly and knows when to pull the trigger.

“But they are a very experienced side, they play with great passion and love playing in front of their home fans and be puffing their chests out for sure.

“We will have to be at our best and that is what our focus is, on being the best we can be regardless of who we are playing.”

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