Eight young guns set to shine as Next Stars

THE National Basketball League (NBL) Next Stars program is continuing to highlight the talents of some of the brightest prospects in the world, with eight new players set to thrive in the system.

Introduced in the 2018-19 season, the Next Stars program focusses on player development, hosting some of the best NBA Draft eligible talent the world has to offer. With the likes of Lamelo Ball and Joshua Giddey emerging from the program as top 10 selections in the draft, the number of talented youngsters wanting to head down under and join the NBL as a Next Star is growing by the year.

In the 2023/24 NBL season, there will be eight Next Stars in the league, highlighted by the record number of NBA scouts present for the Blitz preseason competition last week. Here is what you need to know about each of the eight participants in the program.

Trentyn Flowers – Adelaide 36ers

Flowers is a 206cm wing for the 36ers and is a projected lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. After committing to the Louisville Cardinals, the self-described ‘unicorn’ opted to take his talents to the NBL instead, and after an underwhelming stint at point guard, could be one of the most exciting forwards in the competition. Boasting elite athleticism and plenty of aggressiveness with ball in hand, Flowers should slice through plenty of defenders in the upcoming season.

Ariel HukportiMelbourne United

Unlike many of his peers in this article, Hukporti has played in the NBL before, suiting up for United in the past. However, he missed all of NBL23 with an Achilles injury, but looks as ready as ever for the upcoming season. The German center stands a whopping 213cm, and has put on a bit more size at 113kg since he last hit an NBL court. Hukporti was one of the league’s best defenders in his debut season, and should be a key anchor in the frontcourt for United.

Melbourne United Ariel Hukporti
Airel Hukporti secures a loose ball. Picture credit: Getty Images

AJ Johnson – Illawarra Hawks

Another projected lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft, Johnson will be one of the most exciting factors in the Hawks’ upcoming NBL campaign. At 198cm, he brings plenty of height to the guard position and can hurt the opposition with his ball-handling in the open court, often leaving defenders in his wake as he creates scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates. With plenty of opportunities to lead an offence in Illawarra either as a starter or off the bench, Johnson should thrive and continue to boost his draft stock.

Bobi Klintman – Cairns Taipans

The Swedish sensation has already impressed during his time as a member of the Taipans, showing out in the NBL Blitz and earning a starting role as a result. Having found his feet at NCAA level, Klintman hopped on the trend and joined the Next Stars program, where he will play key minutes for Cairns and should develop well under Adam Forde. A 208cm wing, Klintman has one of the most versatile skillsets in the draft class, given his ability to score, rebound, create and defend.

Mantas Rubstavicius – New Zealand Breakers

Although his name is not quite around the same mark in draft projections as some of the players mentioned above, there is a strong feeling Rubstavicius will skyrocket up the rankings in the coming months. Much of his hype has come from his ability to perform well at international events, leading scoring at the Under-20 Euros and performing strongly at the 2021 Under-19 World Cup. The Lithuanian gun stands 199cm, and has proven a natural ability to find the bottom of the net, which should work wonders in Mody Maor‘s side.

Alexandre Sarr – Perth Wildcats

The highest-profile Next Star of the year, Sarr has already made international headlines with his exceptional performances in the preseason for the Wildcats. Facing off against the G-League Ignite in a pair of exhibition games, the French phenom stole the show with terrific efforts on both the offensive and defensive end, highlighted by 12 blocks over two games. An extremely athletic forward, all eyes will be on Sarr this season, who is projected to be selected inside the top 10 of the draft next year as it stands.

Alexandre Sarr in action against the G-League. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Alex TooheySydney Kings

The first of the local talent in this year’s NBL Next Stars program, Toohey will get his chance to shine with the reigning champions during the upcoming campaign. The Canberra native stands an impressive 203cm as a forward, having developed his craft at the Centre of Excellence, and has been touted as the most impressive graduate of that system since Giddey. The combo forward has no problems scoring the ball, while showing promise as a rebounder and exit passer as well, further putting his name under lights.

Rocco Zikarsky – Brisbane Bullets

Zikarsky is quickly becoming a household name in Australian basketball, and will enter the 2023/24 season as the youngest Next Star in history. At just 17 years of age, Zikarsky is listed at a whopping 220cm, making him one of the tallest prospects in the world. Although he was signed as a project player for the Bullets, his strong level of play over the preseason has forced the Bullets to give him minutes, showing magnificent athleticism, strong rim protection and an ability to take advantage of his size. Playing alongside one of the best big men in Australian basketball in Aron Baynes, Zikarsky should have no problems boosting his draft stock.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments