MONIQUE FORD / STUFF
Rami Shawaf, fourth from left, dribbles his new basketball while wearing his new Tall Blacks singlet. L-R: Hammad Al Bakhas; Abbas Almuhawen, Mohammad Al Tayfour, Rami Shawaf, Zakari Abou Amsha, Mohammad Abbas, Mahmoud Shagouri, Azmi Najem.
Shea Ili and the Tall Blacks will have an unexpected group of fans on Syria when they play Syria in Wellington next week.
Twelve Syrian refugee families will be supporting their new country against the World Cup qualifier at TSB Bank Arena on December 2.
They will be in attendance after Basketball New Zealand (BBNZ) gave them tickets to the match.
20 months ago via a camp in Lebanon, heard about the match and started asking his manager at the English Language Partners' Porirua center, Jacqueline Wilton, about how his family could attend the match.
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അഴിOthers became interested and soon Wilton was on the phone to BBNZ, who were only happy to oblige.
Shawaf was a basketball fan and most of his life.
He had supported the Syrian national team in the past, but said he now wanted to support the team of his new country.
"New Zealand is very good at basketball and I'm going to support the New Zealand team," Shawaf said via a translator Tuesday.
"I would like to thank the team, Basketball New Zealand and Jacqueline for what they did for us." We are very grateful. "
As BBNZ presented the center and some of the families with the tickets on Tuesday, Shawaf was also gifted for signing Shea Ili singing for his making.
So it was a little surprise who Shawaf's favourite Tall Blacks player was answering a question about that by pointing to the No 55 Singlet.
Initially 30 tickets were made available, then 55 as more people became interested. More families at the center from other nationalities who knew the Syrian families were too keen to go, so the number had reached 80 by Tuesday afternoon.
BBNZ also gifted basketballs to each of the 12 families and plan to gift more Tall Blacks singlets to the families.
BBNZ chief executive Iain Potter said it was a small gesture on their behalf, which he hoped would have a big impact for the families.
"Basketball is such an international sport as well, so it translates across.
"I've been with them, they're really grateful for the opportunity to be here, which makes me almost embarrassed to hear them say, given the journey of some of them had.
"They're very grateful and want to be supportive of their new country." I think that's amazing really, very humbling. "
The Tall Blacks beat Syria 107-66 in their first meeting in Lebanon in September.
They also play Jordan in Christchurch on November 29 as part of this World Cup qualification window.