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.