Vukona answers the Giants' call
Mika Vukona has responded to an SOS from the Nelson Giants and will join his basketball brothers for the first four games in the National Basketball League season.
The Fico Finance Giants suffered a double setback at the weekend with big man signing Adrian Majstrovich delaying his move from Perth to Nelson due to a foot injury and the Giants losing their last pre-season match to Canterbury in Blenheim.
With Majstrovich facing a period of between one and four weeks on the sidelines as he repairs nerve damage, the Giants turned to Vukona for short-term help. Although the Breakers and Tall Blacks power forward has off-season plans outside of Nelson, he agreed to join the Giants in the interim and will play four games, the first of them the season-opener this Friday night.
He will arrive in time to meet the Wellington Saints in Saxton Stadium and will be around for a home game against Canterbury on April 12 before leaving the team after a road double-header against Taranaki and Waitakere. By then, Majstrovich should be available to fill the frontcourt slot.
Giants head coach Liam Flynn said the injury and subsequent move to bring in Vukona all happened within 48 hours.
"AJ is getting treatment in Perth and his physio is working with Dawn [Chalmers, the Giants' physiotherapist] to get him pain-free and ready to play as soon as possible," Flynn said.
"He'd been pushing hard to be ready for us and has done some nerve damage in the arch of one foot. Some people say it's a week, others say four, but we needed help and Mika has come through."
Saturday's match in Blenheim confirmed the need for another experienced body on the baseline with centre Jamal Boykin scoring 36 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Nelson's 76-72 loss. The next best scorer for the Giants managed seven points.
Flynn said the Giants outrebounded the Rams but lacked patience on offence. Despite taking 15 more field goal attempts than Canterbury, they were undone by some dire shooting stats.
"We often needed to make one more pass to turn a good shot into a great shot," Flynn said.
"It's not like we are a selfish group, we need to work on moving the ball more."
Canterbury, who return to the NBL this season after three post-quake years away, have recruited two talented imports in 1.98m shooter Glenn Dandridge and 2.1m centre Matt Rogers. Former Tall Black Jeremy Kench is strong and poised at point guard and small forward Ethan Rusbatch is also a capable Cantabrian who has moved home to play for the Rams this year.
"If they had been at the Blitz [pre-season tournament], they would have won some games," Flynn said. "They are really athletic and have some good size."
The Giants trained for 2 hours on Friday before travelling to Blenheim on Saturday. Flynn said practice was going well so they kept going, but a pre-game workload like that will not be repeated once the season starts this week.
"We were OK, solid but we didn't play well enough to win," he said.
"Put JP [Josh Pace] and Mika in the mix before Friday and give us another week together and we'll be fine."