Dean Vickerman has named an NBA club he's had in depth discussions with surrounding Ariel Hukporti.

10 Feb
Dan Woods for

Melbourne United might be sitting pretty on the top of the NBL24 ladder, but that doesn’t mean the side’s players are shirking their duties in the face of injury.

Ariel Hukporti starred for Melbourne in the recent absence of 2022 MVP Finalist Jo Lual-Acuil Jr, however the German Next Star was experiencing an injury issue of his own.

Hukporti had copped a nasty, albeit accidental knock during a training session, but he says his experience of playing in Europe as a youngster taught him the ability to tough knocks like that out.

“I caught an elbow in practice from one of our DPs straight to the mouth, I broke two of my teeth, one got pushed forward and the other one got pushed backwards,” Hukporti revealed.

“I’m used to it from Europe, coming from Europe in my first year, we Europeans aren’t really big on pain like that so I just took it on my chest, I had to play two more games. Jo had some personal problems so I had to step up for the team.

“One to 10, when I was getting hit it was like a six. I feel like I couldn’t really talk, I was trying to give my best and everyone was helping though with that talking part on the pick and roll defence.

“Europeans are the toughest players in the entire world.”

Hukporti’s continued exceptional performances for Melbourne have seen him surge up draft boards, and the Next Star is now firming as a potential late second round pick in the upcoming draft.

Should Hukporti succeed in being drafted he would be the latest in a long line of European talents to utilise the NBL as a springboard in the NBA, but also the first German player to have graduated through the Next Stars pathway.

Melbourne head coach Dean Vickerman has revealed he’s had extensive discussions about the 21-year-old to NBA teams.

“I had a great chat with Memphis about him and his growth yesterday and they wanted to understand in depth about how he deals with the injury, how he dealt with coming back, how he deals with frustration in games, and he’s been great,” Vickerman said.

“He doesn’t take possessions off, he’s engaged, he’s helping his teammates out as much as possible, he can be frustrated if he doesn’t quite get as much help as well, and he can get frustrated with referees at times, but I think he moves on so quickly.

“Everybody is going to have little frustrations in games. I think that, the work ethic, and understanding what he needs every day and him owning his own development have been massive growths.”

Vickerman also listed a string of Hukporti’s tangible and intangible assets that could make him a strong fit in the NBA.

“The speed, the rim presence at both ends, the ability to get out of screens quickly and be a lob threat, the ability to protect the rim,” Vickerman continued.

“We’re a team that doesn’t switch as much as the NBA and it’s something they want to see a little bit more from him, and in the last few games there are probably some opportunities to show that skill but his footwork and his ability to sit down and guard can be fantastic.

“We think his shot has gone to another level in practice, and I challenged him today to get a number in three balls and if he did that, then maybe there’d be an opportunity for him to show that a little bit more as well. He’s been committed to the development of his shot as well and it’s something we haven’t exposed enough, but I think at the next level he can shoot the three-ball.”

Melbourne’s NBL24 campaign will continue against New Zealand on Sunday.

Former Golden State Warrior Anthony Lamb will be absent from the clash after suffering a ruptured Achilles during the Breakers’ Round 18 clash with Perth – the very same injury that kept Hukporti sidelined for the entirety of NBL23.

Hukporti offered some simple advice to his New Zealand counterpart on recovering from the injury.

“Stay patient,” Hukporti said. “It feels like it’s the end of the world, but at the end of the day, it’s not. Keep your head up and stay positive.”

United’s clash with the Breakers will tip off on Sunday at 2pm AEDT, and will be shown live and free on ESPN via Kayo Freebies, 10 Peach and 10 Play, and Sky Sport in NZ.

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