PORT MORESBY, PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Australian Indigenous Basketball All Stars head coach Joel Khalu will shift his focus to mentoring the Papua New Guinea (PNG) men’s representative side, when the Melanesian nation heads to Samoa on Friday for the 2019 Pacific Games.
Many of the 500-strong Team PNG contingent, including its basketball teams, depart Port Moresby tomorrow morning, arriving in Apia later that evening for the 2-week international event.
Khalu is in his sixth year coaching the PNG national side and has been busy finalising Pacific Games preparations during the teams’ final training camp held over the past week in Central Province.
Held every four-years, the Pacific Games is the largest international sporting event for region with over 4000 athletes competing in 27-sports.
The last instalment of the games was held in Port Moresby in 2015, where under the tutelage of Khalu and riding a wave of home-court momentum, the PNG men’s national basketball team finished in fourth place, matching the country’s highest ever placing at the event in the male basketball division.
Khalu is aiming to lead his group to a historic podium finish 4-years on, but acknowledges that won’t be an easy task.
“There’s a lot of very talented basketball teams in the Pacific,” Khalu said.
“Guam are defending Pacific champions and recently won the FIBA Asia men’s qualifying tournament. They have a side packed with professional players, including Tai Wesley, who has consistently showed an ability to dominate the National Basketball League (NBL) in Australia.”
“New Caledonia, a French territory and Tahiti being the largest island in French Polynesia, have high-level players from France that compete professionally in European competitions.”
“Then there’s traditional Pacific powerhouses like Fiji and Samoa, that have national team players based full time in the United States.”
“We know we have our work cut out to compete with these nations, but we’re confident that our unique style of play can put us in a situation to be successful.”
That style of play Khalu is referring to, is a fast-paced offence built on the back of solid defence. PNG ranked number one in overall defence at the 2015 Pacific Games and their coach is hopeful of achieving that same goal 4-years down the track.
“Our players know if we’re any chance of winning games it all starts on the defensive end,” he said.
“Defence and rebounding are what triggers our offence, so if we can’t do those two specific things really well, we won’t be able to apply the scoreboard pressure we need.”
“Alternatively, if we can do an outstanding job of defending and rebounding, while building pressure, there’s not too many teams that can run up and down with us over 40-minutes.”
PNG open their campaign against the Solomon Islands on Monday (July 8), before taking on Tahiti (July 10) and Fiji (July 12) in their 2 remaining Pool B games. Crossover quarter finals with Pool A will be held on Monday (July 15) and Semi Finals on Tuesday (July 16) prior to the medal matches taking place on Wednesday (July 17).