THERE was plenty of anticipation surrounding the National Basketball League (NBL)’s 2023/24 season for many reasons, including the performances of some seriously talented youngsters.
Through the NBL’s Next Stars program, some of the best prospects in the world have joined Australia’s premier basketball competition in a bid to further their chances of selection at the NBA Draft.
Eight Next Stars will be suiting up this season in an exciting development to the league on the global stage.
Each team played just one game over the course of Round 7, with just five matches taking place from Friday to Sunday. However, the Next Stars were still impressing throughout that time, with plenty of buzz still surrounding the NBL for this reason.
Trentyn Flowers – Adelaide 36ers
During Adelaide’s 10-point loss to the JackJumpers, Flowers was again an injection of energy off the bench for the 36ers. His role continues to grow on a weekly basis, as does his confidence. His eight points against Tasmania were the most since his remarkable final quarter heroics earlier in the season, nailing three shots on five attempts. He had a 90-second period where he poured in four points, a rebound and a steal, showing what he is capable of if given the court time.
After spending the first six rounds as United’s starting center, Hukporti moved to the bench for the team’s Throwdown matchup against the Phoenix. It was a move that was expected given Jo Lual Acuil has reached full match fitness and had a strong game last week. Hukporti also had his minutes managed after a knee knock last week, but still used his size to protect the rim and help Melbourne. He delivered one point, three rebounds, an assist and a steal.
AJ Johnson – Illawarra Hawks
The Hawks young gun had just four minutes of court time over the weekend, largely due to the fact that he was sharing bench guard minutes with Tyler Harvey. However, his signature dash and flair were on display in that short amount of time with two points and a rebound. With the Hawks making a head coach change over the past couple of days, Johnson could see his role increase in the coming games.
Bobi Klintman – Cairns Taipans
Klintman did not suit up for the Taipans over the weekend, with the highly touted youngster missing with a hip injury. However, he is expected to return next match, resuming a strong Next Star campaign.
Mantas Rubstavicius – New Zealand Breakers
Rubstavicius also did not hit the court in New Zealand’s loss to the Wildcats over the weekend, but should see some action in the coming weeks given his growing ability to score off the bench.
Alexandre Sarr – Perth Wildcats
It was a quiet night for the star French phenom as his Wildcats took down the Breakers in an important win for Perth, but he still had some key moments. Sarr had no points on 0/5 shooting, but his tremendous athletic profile was still on display off the ball and on the defensive end, and it would have done no damage to his draft prospects for 2024.
Arguably the performer of the round, Toohey was better than his stats suggested in Sydney’s clutch win over the Bullets. He delivered 12 points, three rebounds, one assist and one block in just 20 minutes of play, but played a much more important role than that. Toohey’s ability to switch and guard all five positions was massive, and he spent a fair chunk of time locking down Nathan Sobey, and did a fantastic job on the league’s leading scorer, helping hold him to just 17 points. It was an excellent display of Toohey’s versatility and was one of his best performances of the season.
The trend of Zikarsky’s minutes dropping continued in the loss to the Kings on Sunday afternoon, with he and Aron Baynes sharing court time. In seven minutes of play, he still managed six points and a rebound on a perfect 3/3 shooting from the field. Zikarsky made the most of his looks inside the paint and showed his value despite the limited opportunity.