Vukona enjoys proving doubters, Australians wrong

Chris Pike Columnist

By , Chris Pike is a Roar Expert

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    New Zealand Breakers captain Mika Vukona challenges for a loose ball.

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    Despite beating Perth twice in a week and having already won in Melbourne, the New Zealand Breakers aren’t getting the respect they deserve to start this NBL season.

    However, proving Australians wrong is something 400-game legend Mika Vukona thrives on.

    The Breakers are the hottest team in the NBL and it’s not even close after six rounds. They have won eight straight to sit 8-1 well ahead of the Perth Wildcats (5-3) and Melbourne United (5-4).

    It still appears they are not getting the recognition they deserve this season for whatever reason.

    Remarkably the Breakers are still third at the betting agencies to win the title behind Melbourne and Perth.

    That’s disrespectful to an organisation that is run superbly and to a playing group built to win with the culture to deliver under the leadership of captain Vukona, coach Paul Henare and general manager Dillon Boucher.

    Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Alex Pledger and Kirk Penney know how to win and so does the Breakers organisation having won four of the past seven NBL championships and playing in five of the last seven grand finals.

    Imports Edgar Sosa and DJ Newbill are delivering while Shea Ili is emerging as a quality local point guard along with Rob Loe and Finn Delany playing their roles.

    Whether it’s because they are across the Tasman, because they missed the playoffs last season or because all the drama that has surrounded teams like the Sydney Kings, Adelaide 36ers and at times Melbourne United attracts the headlines, the Breakers deserve to be championship favourites.

    Eight straight wins speaks for itself which included an 88-76 win in Melbourne and then two impressive victories against the Wildcats, including in Perth on Sunday in front of 13,523 screaming fans in red.

    That celebrated the 400th game of five-time championship winning Breakers captain Vukona.

    His 400-game milestone is something he couldn’t care less about. What he does care about is helping his Breakers team win games of basketball.

    Vukona has no doubt that winning eight straight and by winning that Perth that they should be seen as the real deal in 2017-18 with a team of New Zealanders and just the two imports.

    “If nobody takes us seriously now it’s to their detriment to be honest with you. It’s only nine games into the season and it’s still early days, but as a New Zealand team you are always trying to gain the respect of the Australians and just put everyone on notice,” Vukona said.

    “We don’t really care if you guys don’t do that but we just go ahead and keep doing what we need to do. I’m just proud of the guys in this group, regardless of their nationalities.

    mika-vukona-new-zealand-breakers-nbl-basketball-tall

    “To be honest with you we never look at us as being a New Zealand but now that you mention it, it’s actually something I’m proud of. But it’s about us being a whole team.

    “We have anyone from our first to 14th player who can come on and contribute, that’s including our development players. I love playing in a team that you dig that much because it makes playing a whole lot more fun.”

    The win in Perth is something that Vukona treasures especially and not because it came on his 400-game milestone, but because of how tough it is to win there. The Breakers have now won five straight over the Wildcats and on their last two games in Perth Arena.

    Of the 15 games Perth has ever lost in Perth Arena, five have come at the hands of New Zealand including them celebrating the 2013 championship in the building.

    “This is just something we have been building on all season. We didn’t want to come in here and not put the effort in that we played with against the Perth back home. We knew we were coming into an amazing atmosphere and on top of that, the 400 is just a number,” he said.

    “Just to come out with the win regardless of that is amazing. Any time you can get a win in this gym is huge. We’ve got a lot of respect for the organisation, how Trev runs the team and their individual players. We cherish every win we can get here against these guys.”

    After 400 games and five championships, it would be understandable if Vukona was satisfied with his career and prepared to ride off into the sunset like many of his long-time rivals have now done including Shawn Redhage, Matt Knight and Mark Worthington.

    Vukona might be 35, but his body is feeling as good as ever and he credits an increased dedication to his diet, recovery and doing everything right at this point of his career as being behind that.

    What really drives him on is the motivation to continue to compete and win. Five championships isn’t enough for him and winning six this season won’t be either.

    But having watched Redhage retire from the Wildcats with his own fourth title last season inspired him for something similar.

    “I’m not satisfied, man. I want more than just five, I want more than six. Any player that doesn’t want more than they have shouldn’t be playing because that should be your motivation,” Vukona said.

    “I want to win as many as I can and I’m not going to put a number on it because then you confine yourself in to doing that and you don’t enjoy the journey to get there. It’s all about the process of getting there and lifting the trophy up.

    “I saw how Perth felt last season and I saw the joy in their faces, and to see Redhage go off in the right way after all his effort is what you play for. You don’t play for the money or anything else, you play for that success and it’s like a drug. It’s like a feel good thing and that’s what drives you.”

    NBL Round 6 Results
    Thursday

    New Zealand Breakers 88 defeated Perth Wildcats 84
    Cairns Taipans 92 defeated Melbourne United 69

    Saturday
    Melbourne United v Sydney Kings – Hisense Arena 5.30pm
    Adelaide 36ers v Illawarra Hawks – Titanium Security Arena 7.30pm

    Sunday
    Brisbane Bullets 82 defeated Cairns Taipans 74
    Perth Wildcats 82 lost to New Zealand Breakers 88

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