Basketball: Tall Blacks veteran Mika Vukona commits to NZ NBL

Tall Blacks forward Mika Vukona is the latest player to commit to the NZ NBL competition which tips off on June 23 in Auckland. 

Vukona is the highest-profile player to commit to the competition with 162 Tall Blacks appearances to his name, along with 354 games for the NZ Breakers where he won four of his five Aussie NBL championships.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the competition will have a new look format with a player draft to try to spread the talent evenly between the seven teams. 

More than 350 players have already registered for the inaugural draft - which will take place early next month - including NZ representatives  Jack Salt and Tai Wynyard, but Vukona's inclusion will likely see more players sign up. 

The 38-year-old is currently based in Australia so he will have to complete two weeks of quarantine before competing. 

Vukona admits it will be hard being away from his family for at least two months, but is looking forward to the challenge. 

"It's always hard every time you leave your family," said Vukona. "Obviously coming over and getting the blessing by the family was a huge thing. 

"Just watching [the league's plan] unfold and the amount of hours and energy that people have put into it, it looks pretty awesome. With everything that's unfolded in the last couple of weeks.

"Its an opportunity to play and within a six-week period, three games a week – for me, as a basketball nut, it’s heaven."

Each team will play up to three games per week during an intense six weeks with all games to be played at Auckland's Trust Arena.

The 'draft' concept hasn't been for everyone. Southland Sharks, Hawke's Bay Hawks, and defending champions Wellington Saints have already withdrawn from this year's competition, citing concerns over pay and player welfare.

But the revamped championship will see newcomers Auckland Huskies, Franklin Bulls, and Otago Nuggets take part.

Vukona made his NZ NBL debut back in 2000 with the Nelson Giants - the first of four stints he had at the franchise. 

He wants to give back to the league and knows that Tall Blacks coaches will be watching closely.

"This is where I made a living, this is where I got discovered, playing in this League," Vukona added. 

"I just thought it would be fun to go back to the roots and enjoy playing. I love playing, it’s a bit of an addiction.

"[Tall Blacks coach] Pero [Cameron] is definitely going to be keeping an eye on this. You just never know who is going to spring up and put their hands up.

"It's going to be great to see the talent coming through. It's also huge for guys that are free agents or fringe players in the ANBL - it's a great position to showcase your talents. We’ve had coaches over [in Australia] talk about it."

All five Breakers contracted players - Tom Abercrombie, Corey Webster, Rob Loe, Finn Delany, and Jarrad Weeks - have confirmed they won't take part.