Vukona the Breakers' ultimate all-rounder
Mika Vukona is one of those rare breed of sportsmen who needs to get more selfish in the interests of his team.
That's the view of Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis who along with Vukona celebrated a special milestone at Auckland's Vector Arena on Thursday night.
The Breakers marked Vukona's 200th game for the club, and Lemanis' 250th as head coach, by thrashing the Adelaide 36ers 104-79 in front of a sellout crowd of 8500. It was their 13th straight Australian NBL victory, and their 15th on the bounce against the 36ers.
Afterwards Lemanis heralded Vukona's emergence as a supreme all-round hoops talent and called for the 30-year-old Tall Blacks skipper to continue to look to become more of a threat at the offensive end of the court.
The 21-3 Breakers are locked in a tight duel with the Perth Wildcats for the regular season title, and No 1 playoff seed, and Lemanis said Vukona shaped as a key ingredient as the Kiwi club looks to secure just the second title three-peat in league history.
Vukona was one of six double-figure scorers for the Breakers but had arguably the most impressive statline with 11 points (5/7 FG, 1/1 3PT), seven assists, five rebounds and a steal in just 23 minutes.
"He can shoot the threes, but sometimes he's too selfless, always looking to help his team-mates," said Lemanis. "But what he's found this year is one of the ways he helps the team is by scoring.
"He's started to take that on his shoulders and accept that responsibility which is what we've needed him to do.
"That for me is the growth with him. As well as what he does when he's aggressive offensively, he makes good decisions. He had seven assists, so when stuff is taken away from him, he's making the pass.
"When we started he had a single-minded focus on stuff. Whereas as he's grown and evolved now he reads situations on plays and makes the right decisions."
Team-mate Tom Abercrombie described Vukona as the "ultimate team guy" but agreed with his coach's analysis of his offensive emergence this year.
"He's always had that within him, but he's such a team-first guy that he's always looking to do things for his team-mates first. To see him grow even more this year and start to take more of a role offensively is great."
Abercrombie put Vukona on the same level as veterans Dillon Boucher and CJ Bruton in terms of setting the standards at the club.
"He puts his body on the line every night and inspires us all with the passion and energy he brings," added the springy small forward who had an eye-catching 16 points himself.
"That stuff is contagious and you need to have a guy like that in your team to be successful."
Lemanis also reminisced a little on Vukona's development over his 200 games at the club, separated by a couple of seasons across the ditch where he played for Melbourne's South Dragons and the Gold Coast Blaze.
"I remember coming into Waitakere Stadium when I first got here and working him out and seeing the raw, unbelievable energy and athleticism he had then, and the power.
"But that's how he played as well. He played a little bit out of control with that raw energy.
"To see him develop over the years, he's kept the energy and the power, but he's added finesse and poise to his game. He's also grown as an individual, as a family man and a leader of the team.
"Those are the sort of things you reflect on and that's what I get the most reward from, and think maybe I had a small part to do with that."
Vukona and the Breakers host Cairns at the NSEC next Thursday before heading to Melbourne on Sunday. They hold a two-game advantage over nearest pursuers the Perth Wildcats.
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