Vet­eran Vukona joins the 400 club


IN his 20-plus years of coach­ing in the USA, South Ko­rea and Aus­tralia, Perth Wild­cats coach Trevor Glee­son has come across his fair share of spe­cial play­ers.

But there is one Kiwi in par­tic­u­lar he wished he got his hands on.

‘‘He’s prob­a­bly the one guy that I would have loved coach­ing, from way back when I was at Townsville,’’ Glee­son said of Break­ers mile­stone man Mika Vukona.

‘‘He is ev­ery coach’s dream; un­selfish, does ev­ery­thing for the team and he puts his body on the line. He’s the ul­ti­mate warrior.’’

Perth and the Break­ers may share a fierce ri­valry, and will go at it for the sec­ond time in four days to­day, but Glee­son’s com­ments are in­dica­tive of the re­spect the Wild­cats – and in­deed the rest of the league – have for Vukona as he pre­pares to make his 400th ANBL ap­pear­ance.

It is yet an­other amaz­ing achieve­ment in a stel­lar ca­reer that has taken him to five cham­pi­onships and var­i­ous records for the New Zealand fran­chise, on top of what he has done for the Tall Blacks and in the do­mes­tic NBL.

Vukona’s value, though, goes far beyond the num­bers.

The heart and soul of the Break­ers, it is his lead­er­ship, tough­ness and pro­fes­sion­al­ism that will see him go down as a Kiwi hoops le­gend.

But in the thick of the sea­son and with a top-of-the-ta­ble clash to fo­cus on, the 35-year-old power for­ward was in no mood to re­flect be­fore he boarded the long flight to Perth.

Be­sides, he has no plans to call it a day any­time soon. GETTY IM­AGES

‘‘I’ve had a quick think about it and that’s about all I’m go­ing to give to it,’’ Vukona told Stuff.

‘‘I’m just happy and blessed that I’m able to con­tinue play­ing. Not many peo­ple get the op­por­tu­nity and I’ve been able to do it.’’

Vukona is in the last year of his Break­ers con­tract but af­ter an ex­tended off-sea­son to re­vi­talise the body and mind, the ANBL’s lead­ing ac­tive re­bounder feels he could go on for an­other two years.

The nig­gling in­juries that ham­pered re­cent sea­sons have dis­ap­peared and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, he is lov­ing his bas­ket­ball lead­ing a self­less Break­ers squad that have clicked on and off the court to set the early pace this sea­son.

‘‘Ev­ery­body’s shar­ing the ball and ev­ery­body is back­ing up. Talk­ing to Kirk [Pen­ney] af­ter [Thurs­day’s] game, we’re just hav­ing a lot of fun out there. Yeah, some­times it’s a hard slog but at the end of the day we’re hav­ing a lot of smiles out there and en­joy­ing what we’re do­ing.’’

Vukona knows all about a win­ning cul­ture.

Af­ter start­ing his ca­reer with the Break­ers in 2003, he won his first cham­pi­onship with the South Dragons in 2009 be­fore re­turn­ing home to play a key role in all four of the Auck­land-based side’s ti­tles.

And while the team-first men­tal­ity has the cur­rent crop track­ing in the right di­rec­tion, Vukona and the rest of his team­mates are not get­ting car­ried away.

‘‘That’s what has made this team suc­cess­ful in the past, that across the board ev­ery­body can come in and get the job done,’’ he said. ‘‘The thing is we’ve got a lot to im­prove on and that’s a good thing.’’

Mike Vukona raises a no­table ANBL mile­stone against the Wild­cats to­day.

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