University to test itself against international opposition

Josh Aitcheson.
Josh Aitcheson.
New Zealand has been conquered; bigger things await.

The University of Otago men's team is set to test itself against international opposition next week.

The national tertiary defending champion leaves for Taiwan on Friday to play in the BLIA basketball tournament.

Run by Fo Gaung Shan and the International Buddhist Association New Zealand, the tournament invites eight teams from around the world.

The United States, Canada and Australia will be represented, as will Japan, the Philippines, China and Taiwan.

Having been in the works for a long time, head coach Mitchell Langton said it was exciting to finally be ready to leave.

''It's pretty cool, pretty exciting that we've actually been able to sort it all out.

''It's pretty exciting to get to that next level, coaching and playing. To play against people internationally, it's a new experience.''

The team will play three pool games and needs to finish in the top two to make the semifinals.

It begins against Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology on July 17.

Xiamen University and Vanguard University of Southern Carolina follow over the next two days.

The trip is fully paid for and the team will stay in a student village alongside the other squads.

Langton said the level of play was ''quite high''.

However, he felt Otago could match it.

The side returns the majority of its key pieces from last year's national championship win.

Most valuable player Josh Aitcheson leads the way alongside the likes of Darcy Knox and Matt Bardsley.

It has picked up four very useful players in ex-Otago Nugget Micah Lepaio, former Junior Tall Black Nathan Hanna, Isaac Smiler and Aaron Roydhouse.

The side has beaten the University of Canterbury club team - a top-two team in the strong Christchurch club league.

It also pushed the Canterbury Knights, the team beneath the NBL's Rams.

The trip will be great preparation as the team looks to defend its national title in September.

It could also offer some exposure to potential Otago Nuggets prospects, should the team return for next year's NBL.

''Obviously seeing as the Nuggets are coming back, this is just another lead up to that.

''Getting some exposure to some of those guys that probably haven't played at that level before.

''Giving them a bit more of an edge coming into that 2020 season will allow them to see the level they're supposed to be playing at.

''If some of them feel like they're not fit yet, it gives them a good off-season to potentially work towards making that team.''

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