GM of Next Stars Recruitment Liam Santamaria has revealed an extensive presence of NBA scouts across Round 16.

19 Jan
Dan Woods for

As eyes start to move towards the upcoming NBA Draft, those NBL players looking to take the next step in their hoops journey are going pique more and more interest.

That’s exactly what’s happening as the NBL Finals continues its rapid approach, as a number of NBA scouts have made the journey out to Australia and New Zealand to pass their judgement on some of the league’s top talent in the flesh.

Last night’s epic clash between Cairns and Illawarra featured Next Star AJ Johnson and draft-hopeful Taran Armstrong slugging it out in the backcourt in a clash that Bobi Klintman unfortunately missed through concussion.

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Johnson played just under 11 minutes off the bench and pulled together one of the more complete games of his Hawks career so far with eight points and six rebounds. The performance could not have come at a better time, not only because of the scouts in the building, but because of the impending rotation change the arrival of Kyle Adnam will bring.

On the other end of the floor Armstrong continued his strong run of form with nine points, six rebounds and six assists.

“There’s a lot of NBA people in the country right now,” GM of Next Stars Recruitment Liam Santamaria said on NBL Now.

“A lot of them came out at the Blitz to see these guys at the start of their journey in the NBL, and then this feels like the right time for them before some of them are eliminated from post-season action to get a good look at these guys.

“If you look at the schedule there was a chance, potentially, to see Alexandre Sarr twice, to see AJ Johnson twice, Bobi Klintman, Trentyn Flowers, so a lot of NBA teams have sent guys out this week. Now, obviously, some of those guys are off the floor which makes it tricky.

“They were in Wollongong last night – Indiana, Utah, Phoenix, Charlotte – a whole bunch of teams saw AJ Johnson play really well, there’s a real uptick of interest in AJ Johnson because he’s playing a key role on a winning team right now, they lost last night but they’ve been good.”

The scouts’ journey won’t just finish with Johnson’s good Thursday night showing at the WIN Entertainment Centre though. Next on the hitlist, according to Santamaria, is an eye on Melbourne’s Ariel Hukporti before continuing on the scouting mission.

“Now they’re heading down to Tassie to get a good look at Ariel Hukporti, they’ll head back to New South Wales across the weekend,” Santamaria continued.

"[There have been] plenty of NBA eyeballs on the league all season, but [there are] plenty in the country right now.”

Round 16 of NBL24 continues tonight when Tasmania host Melbourne before the Wildcats welcome the Bullets.

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