Fit Vukona vows to deliver
Mika Vukona has had quite an offseason. The heartbeat of the Breakers has healed his body, cleared his mind and rediscovered his love of basketball. Now he just wants to win games.
The 35-year-old is in what you might call a good place as the tipoff to the 2017-18 Australian National Basketball League season draws ever closer. The Breakers have three more pre-season games, against Melbourne United (in Napier today and New Plymouth on Tuesday) and the Brisbane Bullets (Tauranga, September 27), before launching the new campaign at home against the Cairns Taipans on October 8.
Vukona took the best part of six months away from competitive hoops (no Kiwi NBL, no Tall Blacks campaign) to essentially rebuild a body that had been worn down by a career of sacrificing himself for the good of his team as an undersized, but over-committed worldclass power forward.
Now, approaching the final year of his contract, motivated like you wouldn’t believe, Vukona says he feels the best he has in four years. He may no longer be the ‘‘Wolverine’’ with the mystical healing powers, but he firmly believes, even as one of the older players in this league, he still has plenty to give to this club.
‘‘It’s been two years since I’ve been healthy,’’ reflects Vukona after playing the last two seasons through a hamstring tear. ‘‘I’ve been carrying little injuries and you don’t realise how much of a difference it makes. Being able to have this off-season getting the body right, eating right, I’m feeling like a spring chicken. Now I’ve just got to transfer that into basketball form.’’
This is how serious Vukona is about his health now. He has cajoled long-time Nelson-based trainer Claire Dallison to take the chief strength and conditioning role with the Breakers. She has always got the best out of him, whether it be with the Giants or Tall Blacks, and now will attempt to do the same through the ANBL season.
‘‘She’s great, and she thinks outside the box in terms of training methods,’’ says Vukona. ‘‘It’s great to have her up. It will make a big difference.’’
Vukona really is reborn. As part of his off-season rehabilitation he worked out with a group of veteran ex-Tall Blacks and NBL guys who were preparing for the World Masters Games. It was an eyeopener for a pro who had become a little worn down by the game.
‘‘Just being part of that, realising how much I enjoy the game, and how much they still enjoy it was really important. These were guys I really respect and to be part of that I really got a love for the game back again.’’ Vukona was not proud of his last season, playing hurt, and struggling for the spring he needs to deliver what he is capable of. His numbers weren’t horrible. He averaged 6.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists, and shot 63 percent from the floor in around 19 minutes a game.
But it wasn’t the Vukona Breakers fans know so well.
‘‘The last part was a real grind. I didn’t realise how much I didn’t like it until I came back for this season. I’m a different person. I’ve transformed the whole way I approach the game, and also how I play it too.’’
In essence, Vukona was playing under-powered. ‘‘I’ve got it back now, and it’s night and day,’’ he says. ‘‘I can actually jump off two feet again, and I’ve got a lot more explosiveness. Now it’s the head.
‘‘I only took five outside jumpers last year, and I have always prided myself that I can shoot it when I Being able to have this offseason getting the body right, eating right, I’m feeling like a spring chicken. that have to. Last year I didn’t want take it because I didn’t believe myself.’’
Vukona pledges to deliver a different game this season. He wants to play smarter, for shorter periods, but at a higher intensity. He says he is energised by the presence of young Tall Blacks star Finn Delany in his position and vows to ‘‘play younger’’.
‘‘Now it’s just the mind. It’s hard, man. The older you get, the more to in mind games come into it. You do it for so long, you can end up secondguessing yourself.’’
Paul Henare has certainly noticed a different Vukona this season.
‘‘It’s good to see him running around without limping,’’ says the Breakers coach. ‘‘That was the first thing I noticed when I got back from the Tall Blacks and watched him working out. He is moving freely, and that can only be good for him and us.’’
Vukona was awfully proud of what Henare’s young Tall Blacks achieved at the Fiba Asia Cup. It has made him more determined to fight his way back in for the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign.
‘‘It’s so good to see the across the board, and that’s going to push me.
‘‘Can I make this team that could qualify for the next couple of big talent really tournaments, and if so can I carry that through to hopefully tick that box of getting to the Olympics?’’
But first up is an ANBL season which will see Vukona carry a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
‘‘We’re under the radar, which I love,’’ he says of the league chatter across the ditch.
‘‘I don’t think they should be talking about us. We didn’t make the playoffs which was a total disappointment. I hated that.’’