Australian pair Rocco Zikarsky and Alex Toohey are the two most recent Next Stars to sign on for NBL24, and they're flying the flag for a new generation of Aussie hoops prodigies.

23 Jul
By Dan Woods for

Is the Australian talent level in the world of basketball at an all-time high? It would be easy to suggest so.

With the likes of Dyson Daniels and Josh Giddey establishing themselves as exceptional NBA talents, despite both being aged just 20, and Tyrese Proctor firming as a high – if not potentially top ten – first round selection in next year’s NBA Draft, the next step seemed to be the re-establishment of an Australian presence in the NBL Next Stars program.

Now, in this upcoming class of prospects we have two - Alex Toohey and Rocco Zikarsky.

Toohey, who is a product of Basketball Australia's Centre of Excellence, seems ready to play straight away. The Kings recruit has already turned 19 and went through an extensive collegiate recruiting process before decommitting from Gonzaga to play in the NBL. He’s also made his debut for the senior Boomers side in a handful of recent World Cup qualifiers.

Zikarsky, who hails from the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, looms as something of a slower burn – much like most towering centres generally are. The Queensland-born former swimming prodigy only turned 17 in the past few weeks, and his route to extensive court time will not only be determined by his tender age and continuing physical development, but also by Brisbane’s strong centre rotation.

There’s no doubting that both talents have serious NBA potential, and the potential to light up the NBL while they’re in the competition.

“One of the elements of this Next Stars class I’m most excited about is the presence of Alex and Rocco – two of Austrlaia’s top young prospects – within it,” General Manager of Next Stars Recruitment Liam Santamaria said.

“We want the program to serve as a launching pad for the careers of elite ballers right across the globe, but particularly for the very best homegrown talent.

“I’m excited for Alex to play an important role for the Kings this year and, potentially, next year as well. He’s such a talented, versatile two-way player and I think Coach Abdelfattah is going to love utilising him in a variety of different roles.

“Rocco is a unique prospect in a variety of ways and the fact he’s the youngest ever player to become an NBL Next Star makes him a historic addition to the program. Given his young age, there’s a clear development plan in place for Rocco that will involve him spending multiple years as a Next Star.”

The Next Stars program could be seen as something of a ‘one and done’ stop for the globe’s top-rated talent, but that’s certainly not the case.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">They&#39;ve got Next ?<br><br>Which of our seven Next Stars are you most excited to see in <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL24</a>? ?<br><br>Read more: <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">July 16, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Ariel Hukporti is returning for his third season in the program for NBL24 following his gruesome Achilles injury last season, while recent NBA draftee Mojave King spent two years in the league, prior to joining the NBA G-League Ignite.

Justinian Jessup elevated his level to become a clear starting talent for the Illawarra Hawks in his second campaign at the club, and now Zikarsky will be the next player to bear the flag for players wishing to utilise the Next Stars program as a longer-term development tool.

“He will first become eligible for the NBA Draft in 2025,” Santamaria said of the 7’3” centre. “Ultimately, Rocco’s decision about when to nominate will be guided by his maturation and development over the coming years.

“It’s fantastic that Rocco will have the opportunity to learn from Aron Baynes on a daily basis. Baynes knows what it takes to maximise your potential as a pro baller, carve out a successful NBA career and play an integral role in the success of our national men’s program – all things Rocco is looking to achieve over the course of his career.

“It’s a terrific opportunity for Rocco to learn from Aron, both on and off the court. He’s excited to make the most of it.”

The additions of Zikarsky and Toohey into the Next Stars program mean seven of the NBL’s ten teams will feature some of the most exciting young talents in the world of basketball.

Next Stars aside, the likes of Perth’s Ben Henshall, Dontae Russo-Nance and Taran Armstrong, Cairns’ Sam Mennenga and Taran Armstrong, Brisbane’s Josh Bannan, Sydney’s Klairus Amir, Illawarra’s Lachlan Olbrich and Melbourne’s Flynn Cameron represent an emerging crop of locally classified first year professionals – and there are plenty more where they came from.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Get excited, Snakes fans - because Fordey is ?<br><br>Just how good will Taran Armstrong be in <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL24</a>? ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">May 18, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Adelaide, South East Melbourne and Tasmania are the three clubs that are currently without a Next Star for NBL24, but Santamaria says it’s an avenue that’s still being explored for all three teams.

“Let’s put it this way ... I’m continuing to actively explore the possibility of adding to our super-exciting 2023/24 Next Stars class,” Santamaria continued. 

“As part of that process there remains a constant dialogue with the key decision-makers at Adelaide, South East Melbourne and Tasmania.

“Will we wind up with more than seven Next Stars this season? I’m not sure – probably not. But as long as those teams remain interested in exploring the possibility, we’ll continue to work with them in that space.”

The first opportunity to see Toohey, Zikarsky, and the rest of NBL24’s class of Next Stars will come in the pre-season NBL Blitz, which is set to be held on the Gold Coast.

For more information on the Hungry Jack's NBL Blitz, click here.

1920x250 (2)

For early access and updates, stay up to date with the hottest young basketball talent in the world. Sign up below and never miss a play or the next big moment.

By signing up you agree to the NBL Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.