Breakers import Akil Mitchell finally overcomes horror eye injury to return to court
Breakers forward Akil Mitchell has finally put that horror eye injury late in the Australian NBL season behind him as he gets back to the business of playing basketball again.
It has taken a while, but Mitchell, sporting protective eyewear, is at last back on court as he turns out for the Long Island Nets in the NBA's D-League.
The Long Island team is the D-League affiliate of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets for whom New Zealand's Sean Marks is the General Manager.
The 24-year-old first-year import for the Breakers in the 2016-17 ANBL has made four appearances for the Nets since joining them in March. He is averaging 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists over that quartet of appearances.
Mitchell had a mostly impressive campaign with the Breakers as a backup power forward (averaging 9.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 22.7 minutes a game while shooting 56 percent from the field) before a dramatic incident against the Cairns Taipans prematurely ended his season and ultimately torpedoed the playoff hops of the Auckland-based ANBL club.
In a late-January game against the Taipans at a sold-out North Shore Events Centre Mitchell went down in agony as his eyeball was popped out of his head in a freak incident while tussling for a rebound.
Taipans cente Nnanna Egu accidentally poked Mitchell in the eye, causing the globe luxation that had team-mates and club officials at the time fearing for both his eyesight and career as he was rushed to hospital.
The American never made it back on court for the Breakers, despite getting positive medical reports in the aftermath, and eventually returned to the US to seek further treatment on the eye as it continued to give him problems.
The club eventually missed the playoffs by just one win as they rallied with two victories in their last two games.
Mitchell told the Brakers at the end of February: "I am doing very well, I just had what I hope will be my last follow up appointment earlier in the week and received more good news. Although there is still a decent sized laceration on the eye, it looks to be healing nicely."
Other 2016-17 Breakers closing out the season around the globe include Tom Abercrombie (in Turkey), import guards Kevin Dillard (in Israel) and David Stockton (in the D-League) and forward Paul Carter (in France).
Abercrombie has played five games (all defeats) in the Turkish league for Demir Insaat Buyukcekmece Basket and is averaging 5.0 points and 2.2 rebounds for the 6-17 strugglers.
Dillard appears to have turned things round for Maccabi Ashdod in Israel with the club having won three of four since the point guard's arrival, on the back of a six-game losing streak before that. He is averaging 12.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
Carter, too, is posting some impressive numbers with Hyeres-Toulon in the French ProA league, averaging 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds for the 9-15 club.
Stockton, son of NBA legend John, played 10 games for the Breakers as a replacement for Ben Woodside before succumbing to a mixture of sub-par form and a lower back injury.
He is performing better with the Reno Bighorns, going at 16.3 points, 5.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds across 12 games for the D-League franchise.
The Breakers have yet to decide on their imports for the 2017-18 season, with four spots still available on their roster and a maximum three restricted players allowed.
Coach Paul Henare is looking to add two "high quality" guards among the late additions, and said the call had yet to be made whether to go with two imports or three.
"We've got Finn [Delany], Mika [Vukona], [Alex] Pledger and Robbie [Loe] in the bigs, and we're weighing up do we need to bring in an import which we have done the last couple of years.
"We're pretty secure at the five [position], but can Mika and Finn hold us in good stead next year? A big part of that will be making sure we get Mika healthy, and those decisions will happen a little later on."
Henare said one of the by-products of Mitchell's unfortunate injury had been the chance for Delany to get extended meaningful minutes, and show he can definitely mix it as a power forward in the league.
"We were able to experiment with Robbie and Pledger playing side by side which worked pretty well, and we saw how Finn can contribute at that level. Those are two things in the back of our minds when we ask ourselves whether we need an import big."