MUCH talk has been about Nelson Giants’ top three players snared in the recent 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Player Draft, but it is the depth in the final few rounds that head coach Mike Fitchett is just as excited about.
Mika Vukona, Mike Karena and Dane Brooks have joined forces for a formidable triple threat as the Giants stand as a clear title contender with that experience and ability both on the point-scoring and rebounding fronts. Whilst Fitchett said those three were superb players, he was astounded that he was able to pick up a couple of diamonds in the rough late in the draft.
“I didn’t expect either Thane O’Leary or Theo Johnson to be available at the 10th and 11th rounds,” Fitchett said. “To me that was crazy to be able to get them there. “I was happy to grab them though, I think they will really help us.”
The duo will join the top three with NZNBL experience, something that will be huge in the stretch considering the modified season.
“That was something we were looking for in the draft – guys with NBL experience. Mika, Dane and Mike come with that experience,” Fitchett said. “We were able to select Thane and Theo as well who also bring NBL experience. “Theo was with the Saints last year, so he brings some championship experience too.”
NELSON GIANTS TRIPLE THREAT:
The biggest name when it comes to talking about New Zealand basketball, the 38-year-old power forward is a massive influence both on and off the court for any side he represents. Vukona has a long history in both the NZNBL and Australian NBL, most recently representing the Brisbane Bullets after crossing from the New Zealand Breakers. He has represented a number of NZNBL sides, but four stints with the Giants has the club legend closely attached to the place. He will be a massive influence off the offensive boards.
Joining Vukona as a dual big man threat, fellow Tall Black Mike Karena will play out of the center position and be very hard to stop standing at 210cm and 122kg. Still only 26-years-old, Karena has plenty to offer for many years to come. In the 2019 NZNBL season, the Canterbury Rams big man averaged 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds – 3.8 of which came off the offensive boards. For the Giants to pair Karena up with Vukona allows them to have two quality big men that will be incredibly hard to move and make life difficult for opposition defences.
After playing six seasons with the Taranaki Mountainairs in the NZNBL, Brooks had opted to sign on with the Southland Sharks ahead of the 2020 season. When the Sharks announced they would not compete this year, it left the 190cm guard without a team. The Player Draft came along and somehow Brooks was still available at the Giants’ third pick which they subsequently snaffled him up. Whilst he does not have the size of his two teammates, Brooks still represents a danger across the court, averaging 12 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
HEAD COACH MIKE FITCHETT ON HOW HE ENVISAGES THE TRIO WORKING TOGETHER:
“Mika and Mike will be great to play through in the post, they are both good scorers and facilitators inside. “Dane gives us more athleticism on the wing and also adds to Mika and Mike’s ability to crash the O (offensive) boards.”
Whilst the triple threat will be a huge concern for the opposition sides, Fitchett said monitoring the health and recovery of players with up to three games a week was key to success in the 2020 Sal’s NBL competition.
“Health is going to be a huge factor through this competition,” he said. “I anticipate changing starters, resting guys here and there and generally experimenting with line ups throughout the first half of the league, and then starting to focus in on the playoff rotation as we get closer to the end of the regular season.”
As for a few ones to watch, Fitchett said there was some promising young talents who might surprise this season with more experience in the NZNBL.
“We have a few local Nelson guys that haven’t played a huge amount in the NBL yet, so I am really looking forward to seeing what Riley Bensemann, Nic Trathen and Tysxun Aiolupotea can do in this league,” he said.
Nelson Giants tip off their season in the first game of the year against Taranaki Mountainairs from 5.30pm local time next Tuesday, June 23.
2020 SAL’S NBL NELSON GIANTS INFORMATION:
Tuesday June 23 vs Airs @ 5:30pm
Thursday June 25 vs Nuggets @ 5:30pm
Sunday June 28 vs Jets @ 7:30pm
Tuesday June 30 vs Bulls @ 7:30pm
Thursday July 2 vs Rams @ 7:30pm
Sunday July 5 vs Huskies @ 5:30pm
Wednesday July 8 vs Jets @ 5:30pm
Thursday July 9 vs Airs @ 5:30pm
Sunday July 12 vs Nuggets @ 7:30pm
Wednesday July 15 vs Bulls @ 7:30pm
Saturday July 18 vs Rams @ 5:30pm
Sunday July 19 vs Huskies @ 5:30pm
Wednesday July 22 vs Airs @ 5:30pm
Saturday July 25 vs Nuggets @ 5:30pm