Okwera owns opportunity as a starter

WITH Melbourne United in the midst of a big man shortage, youngster David Okwera has been taking his chances for increased minutes and rewarded the team with a strong performance on the weekend.

When United took down the Phoenix with an emphatic 110-85 win, Okwera was one of the team’s better performers. After Ariel Hukporti went down with a season-ending injury, there was more opportunity for Okwera after spending last year as a development player. He has eased himself into the season, but saved his best showing for the team until Sunday afternoon at John Cain Arena.

After a high scoring first half, United pulled away thanks to some improved defence, while maintaining their dynamism on the offensive end of the court. The Phoenix could not keep up, as United snatched a fourth consecutive Throwdown win.

Melbourne United (110) def. SEM Phoenix (85)

David Okwera – 13 points, five rebounds, two assists, one block

Okwera started alongside fellow big man Isaac Humphries, with United opting for a tall lineup. He registered his first stat with a defensive rebound off a miss from Trey Kell III, and his presence inside the paint was a massive factor for Melbourne’s interior defence.

He nailed his first attempt from the field to start strongly, combining with Xavier Rathan-Mayes to convert the alley-oop layup at the rim. Played a big role defending the pick and roll in the minutes that followed, before heading to the bench with five minutes to play in the term as Dean Vickerman went with a smaller lineup.

He returned a few minutes later to close out the term, but got himself into a bit of foul trouble with two in quick succession. Okwera’s dish out pass to Chris Goulding on the perimeter lead directly to a three-pointer, showcasing the youngster’s game awareness.

Okwera didn’t register too many stats to open the second term, but his impact was still clear. He drew a foul in the first minute of the quarter, looking to take advantage of the mismatch against a smaller opponent. The West Australian native even drained a three-pointer as the shot clock wound down in the middle of the period and United began to get on top. The very next possession, he continued to be involved on the offensive end, backing down the opposition and nailed the turn around jump shot. Kept involved on the boards to close out a solid first half.

Spent most of the third quarter on the bench, with Melbourne rotating their bench through the minutes for much of the term. Returned to the court with three minutes to go in the period, and immediately got involved with a defensive board.

Kept his offensive tally going with another jump shot from mid-range territory as Melbourne made its match-winning run, and continued to prove a headache for the Phoenix when he drained his second three of the match from a Rathan-Mayes dime. He seems confident in his jump shot when wide open, and is proving to be a damaging pick and pop player. Pulled down the final rebound of the quarter as United led by double-digits heading into the final term.

Okwera continued to fight hard in the paint on the defensive end, disrupting a number of Phoenix shots near the rim. Unfortunately, his foul trouble did not resolve itself, so the big man had to essentially spend the entire final term on the pine, but it mattered not with United having secured the win after a big third period.

Okwera looks to reward United for signing him to a two-year deal over the offseason, continuing to improve as the season rolls on. He has proven to be a three-way scorer and could be one of the NBL’s most improved by season’s end.

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