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Take 40: Tom Abercrombie
Wednesday, February 12, 2014, 05:31:37 PM

The last time he was in the United States of America, Tom Abercrombie was chasing an NBA dream as a member of the Phoenix Suns in the Las Vegas Summer League.

“I went a bit earlier and did some mini camps and then went onto the summer league. It was pretty exciting to be a part of but it can be tough to stand out. It was an amazing experience though,” he said.

It was all part of a busy trip. And right in the middle of exam time for his Bachelor of Science course at Massey University.

“I have to admit I wasn’t highly focused on the study side of things at the time. But there I was sitting in Chicago doing an exam online. On the other side of the world. Pretty surreal.”

Now he has designs on taking down some of the NBA luminaries he had hoped to join in the big time. September 2 is the date. It’s already circled in diaries across New Zealand, with the Tall Blacks scheduled to meet the might of the USA at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

And Abercrombie will be handed the toughest assignment in the game right now.

“I’ll get Kevin Durant I’d say. And I guess it’s pretty amazing to think of it that way,” Abercrombie said.

“It’s exciting for New Zealand. I think the whole country will be getting behind us. They’ll have Chris Paul. Blake Griffin. Plenty of superstars. So it should be interesting.”

“But New Zealand has had success at the world championships in the past. And when that happens basketball gathers plenty of support.”

None more so than the Tall Blacks’ 2002 campaign when Kirk Penney and Paul Henare piloted them to wins over Russia, Venezuela, China and Puerto Rico.

“I remember when I was younger and that was the tournament that really spurred me on to want to be a Tall Black,” he said.

“To think that we are going to go head to head with the USA is pretty amazing. It’s pretty daunting at the same time. But it’s something I’ve always hoped I’d be able to do.”

Abercrombie is following a trail first blazed by his Mother. She even coached him for a season during primary school.

“Mum got me into it. She’s played her whole life. She still plays now actually. I don’t think I’ll still be playing when I’m her age. I think I might be struggling to move by then.”

From an early age, basketball was a comfortable fit.

“I tried lots of sports growing up. I played soccer for seven years. Rugby. Tennis. Loved volleyball. Gave cricket a go. I was more of a batsman than a bowler. I never quite grasped the co-ordination of having such long limbs well enough to be a fast bowler.”

“But basketball was always my passion. And it still is. I’m playing pretty much all year round and the off-season is filled up with playing in other leagues.”

He would be a surfer, if he could. He’s not bad. And the neighbouring waves on the Auckland coast suit his style. But time doesn’t quite allow a broadening of those ocean skills these days.

“Back in the ‘grom’ days I used to get out a lot more than I do now. I had a bit of time off but this summer I have tried to make more of an effort to get out on the board,” he said.

“We’re a bit spoilt for choice here. I try and go wherever it’s quiet. Daryl Corletto just got his board sent over from Melbourne but that’s about it as far as the Breakers boys go.”

That’s not completely unusual. Abercrombie has always stood out from the pack. Like in the 2011 Grand Final series when he took out the Larry Sengstock Medal as its MVP.

“I was pretty shocked when I won that. To be honest I didn’t even know they gave out that award. It was a great honour to win it though. It was one of those playoff series where it was a real grind so I think it could have gone to anyone really,” he said.

“It gave me more confidence though. And a little more belief. It helped me go on and have a good New Zealand season and probably encouraged me to work harder on my game.”

Two more championships would follow, with Abercrombie establishing himself as one of the NBL’s leading players, in what will be remembered as one of the greatest dynasties in League history.

“I’m extremely proud of what we achieved. To win three in a row is unbelievable. All three were different and special in their own way,” Abercrombie said.

“The first one was fantastic. The amount of buzz and interest it created in New Zealand was amazing. That lead us into the second one where we were able to sell out Vector Arena all season. And then the last one was done on the road in Perth where it is incredibly tough to win and we were well outnumbered with support.”

“But you know I was part of the journey leading up to that. To have been part of that process for three years prior to those wins and be involved in the building of the culture and the team ethic and to then see what we were capable of made it even more special.”

“I just think any championship win is a very special thing. You never have the same team in any one year so it gets done and then you sort of move on and try and do it all again with a new group.”

“There’s no doubt our success has taken the level of interest in basketball in New Zealand to a whole new level and that’s something we’re all really proud of. We know we are in a rugby mad nation but we are gathering momentum and that is showcased by the crowds we have had over the past few years.”

And the reality is, Abercrombie remains one of the key reasons why they keep coming back.