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.
Round 8 of the NBL saw some excellent performances from the rising young guns over the span of seven games from Thursday to Sunday, starting with South Australia’s premier draft prospect.
Trentyn Flowers – Adelaide 36ers
Flowers delivered another strong outing in Adelaide’s impressive comeback victory against the Phoenix on Friday night. He was given a serious boost in minutes for the 36ers, essentially slotting into Jason Cadee‘s role in the starting lineup after coming off the bench and playing his role to perfection. Flowers was an offensive presence, posting 13 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes, flirting with his first career double-double in the process. He shot 5/8 from the field, doing a fair chunk of his work early to keep Adelaide in the contest, and left a few points on the floor too, only shooting 50 per cent from the free throw line.
Unfortunately for Hukporti, the return to form from Jo Lual Acuil has seen his minutes decrease in a big way. However, when on the court, the talented big man can still showcase his skillset and use his strengths to help the team in limited court time. In the impressive and important win over the Kings on Sunday afternoon, Hukporti had two points, five rebounds and an assist, but the stats did not reflect how well he deterred opposition players from attacking the rim.
AJ Johnson – Illawarra Hawks
Johnson was given eight minutes of court time under new coach Justin Tatum over the weekend, showing plenty of zip and flare around the court. His shining moment came in the first quarter, where he threw down a powerful dunk, and was fouled by Dane Pineau in the process, converting the and-one to deliver a highlight play. Although they were his only points of the game, it was a glimpse of what he can do.
Bobi Klintman – Cairns Taipans
It was a quiet weekend for Klintman, who played just six minutes over two games as the Taipans continue to manage his injury over the course of the season. Against the Wildcats on Thursday night, the forward did not score, but worked hard defensively to record two blocks along with a pair of assists, showcasing the versatility of his game. Unfortunately, he missed Cairns’ second outing due to his ongoing hip issues, but should return after the break this weekend.
Mantas Rubstavicius – New Zealand Breakers
Unfortunately did not suit up for the Breakers due to a leg strain, but New Zealand should get him back in the near future.
Alexandre Sarr – Perth Wildcats
The potential top pick in next year’s NBA Draft delivered a pair of excellent performances over the weekend, and has been instrumental in Perth’s midseason resurgence. He continues to build his draft stock and is an integral part of his team’s success on a nightly basis. In the eight-point win over the Taipans, he poured in 12 points, three rebounds, an assist, two steals and two blocks in a two-way masterclass. A couple of days later, his defensive impact continued, producing another two blocks to go with six points and four rebounds in another eye-catching round from the highly touted prospect.
The 19-year-old continues to shine for the Sydney Kings, and had another excellent outing on the weekend. In just under 23 minutes of play, he produced 10 points, four rebounds and a block against the ladder leaders in Melbourne United. His defensive versatility was once again a real weapon for the Kings, rotating onto a host of players and holding his own on most occasions. Behind Sarr and maybe Klintman, there are not many more exciting Next Stars than Toohey.
Another game where Zikarsky’s minutes were limited, but his presence is always noted whenever he hits the court. In just eight minutes, he had two points and four rebounds, but once again, his towering height caught the eye. His scoring play came in the first quarter, throwing down a one-handed alley-oop from a Nathan Sobey pass, using his unique size and reach to catch the ball above the defence and finish at the rim.