Vukona looks set to bite the bul­let

The Southland Times - - SPORT - MARC HIN­TON

With no cast-iron deal in front of him from the new Break­ers man­age­ment, club leg­end and five-time 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.

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 35-year-old Fiji-born Kiwi has signed with the Bul­lets who are in the process of re­mak­ing their ros­ter.

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 con- firmed 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 freeagency, 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 told Stuff.

‘‘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.’’

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,’’ added Boucher. ‘‘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 per­cent from the freethrow line.

‘‘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,’’ added Boucher. ‘‘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.

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.

Mika Vukona is said to be head­ing back across the Tas­man to play his Aus­tralian NBL bas­ket­ball.

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