Vukona set to bite bul­let

Taranaki Daily News - - Sport - MARC HIN­TON

With no cast-iron deal in front of him from the new Break­ers man­age­ment, club leg­end and five­time NBL cham­pion Mika Vukona is re­port­edly head­ing to re­u­nite with his old coach An­drej Le­ma­nis at the Bris­bane Bul­lets.

Stuff un­der­stands that Vukona was told he was no longer seen as a starter at the Break­ers un­der the new own­er­ship group headed by Amer­i­can Matt Walsh, and re­ports have emerged in Aus­tralia that he is now head­ing to join Le­ma­nis at the Bul­lets where he will line up along­side Tall Blacks team-mate Reuben Te Rangi who has just inked a new deal to re­main in Bris­bane.

Vukona played 13 sea­sons all told with the Break­ers in two stints, and un­der Le­ma­nis’ tute­lage won a three­p­eat of cham­pi­onships be­tween 2011-13. He also won a ti­tle with Mel­bourne’s South Dragons in 2008-09.

Fox Sports are re­port­ing that the Fiji-born Kiwi, 35, has signed with the Bul­lets who are in the process of re­mak­ing their ros­ter af­ter an­other sea­son that fell short of their tar­gets. They have also re­port­edly lured Boomers guard Cam Glid­don from Cairns on a new three-year deal.

Break­ers Gen­eral Man­ager Dil­lon Boucher did not want to com­ment on Vukona’s re­ported de­par­ture be­cause they had yet to re­ceive in­di­ca­tions to that ef­fect from the player, but he con­firmed they had been happy for the club vet­eran to test the free-agency mar­ket.

‘‘We ac­tu­ally don’t know what Mika is do­ing. He wanted to go to free-agency, and I put that down to not hav­ing a coach in place and him not know­ing what the land­scape was go­ing to look like,’’ Boucher said.

‘‘His agent is in Aus­tria right now which makes it tough to deal with him. We know he has been talk­ing to teams, and we gave him our bless­ing to do that. But we don’t know what he’s do­ing.’’

Boucher con­firmed the club had not got to the stage of mak­ing Vukona an of­fer, but he had been told they wanted him back and val­ued his on­go­ing role as a se­nior player. Stuff un­der­stands Vukona was in­formed he would no longer be a starter.

‘‘We told him we wanted him back,’’ Boucher said. ‘‘We said go out and see what’s out there but we want you around. We hadn’t got to the point where we were mak­ing of­fers yet purely be­cause we were wait­ing to see what he came back with.’’

But Boucher did con­cede that Vukona’s on-court con­tri­bu­tion was not at the level it had once been. He av­er­aged 6.2 points and

6.0 re­bounds in 20.9 min­utes in the

2017-18 ANBL sea­son, shoot­ing 54 per­cent from the floor and 42 per cent from the free-throw line.

"We said go out and see what's out there but we want you around."

Break­ers Gen­eral Man­ager Dil­lon Boucher

‘‘It’s the pro­gres­sion of a pro­fes­sional ath­lete: you start out on the bench, make your way up, then end your ca­reer wind­ing your way down,’’ Boucher said. ‘‘We saw it with Kirk [Pen­ney], CJ [Bru­ton] and Pauli [Henare], and the list goes on.’’

Vukona has played 15 sea­sons all told in the Aus­tralian NBL, 13 for the Break­ers and one each for South Dragons and the Gold Coast Blaze. He is also into his 14th sea­son of in­ter­na­tional hoops with the Tall Blacks and re­turns to Nel­son for the up­com­ing Kiwi NBL.

For a long time he has been re­garded as one of the premier power for­wards in the league, and a player whose con­tri­bu­tion far out­weighed what showed up on the stat sheet. His tough­ness, re­lent­less­ness and dogged pur­suit of loose balls and re­bounds made him a linch­pin of the Break­ers’ four cham­pi­onships.

Boucher also con­firmed the sta­tus of young Tall Blacks power for­ward Finn De­lany who showed up on the free-agents list as con­tracted.

‘‘We’re in ne­go­ti­a­tions with him at the mo­ment, and hope to an­nounce him very soon. We’re pretty con­fi­dent we will get the deal done, and the NBL al­lowed us to keep that one on our books be­cause we were on the cusp of hav­ing him signed.’’

The Break­ers, un­der new coach Kevin Braswell, are now set to un­dergo their own ros­ter makeover af­ter the re­tire­ment of Kirk Pen­ney and now the de­par­ture of Vukona which will free up a hefty swag of salary.

So far only cen­tre Alex Pledger, small for­ward Tom Aber­crom­bie and young point guard Shea Ili have been con­tracted for next sea­son and be­yond.

It is no se­cret that new coach Braswell would love to re­u­nite with for­mer Breaker Tai Wes­ley who was such an im­por­tant part of Mel­bourne’s ti­tle run and played for Braswell in the New Zealand NBL at the Saints. Wes­ley cov­ers the same power for­ward po­si­tion as Vukona, and the Kiwi club sud­denly has a big hole to fill there.

Wes­ley is now a free agent and has in­di­cated he is look­ing else­where af­ter Mel­bourne’s lat­est of­fer fell short of what he was look­ing for.

Mika Vukona, left, is said to be leav­ing the Break­ers and head­ing back across the Tas­man to play his Aus­tralian NBL bas­ket­ball.

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