Shea Ili (Image: @MelbUnited)

Shea Ili has always been an underrated player and is currently playing some of the best basketball of his career.

When people think of Melbourne United, they think of Chris Goulding, Matthew Dellavedova, and Luke Travers. But not many people think about Shea Ili.

One could be mistaken for not realising the effect ‘Shili’ has had on the 2021 NBL champions team.

At a glance, the Kiwi’s season statistics could be considered unflattering, averaging 9.6 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game. But his impact stems far beyond what any numbers could possibly show.

Early in the 2023/24 NBL season, Ili has formed a dynamic partnership with Dellavedova as part of an important defensive duo.

In the absence of Dellavedova throughout the past two games, the two-time NBL Championship winner has stood up when his team has needed him most.

Playing against his old side, Ili produced his best game of the season so far, finishing with 16 points, four assists, and two steals in a hard-fought victory over the New Zealand Breakers at John Cain Arena on Sunday afternoon.

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Ili was a major presence throughout the contest, setting the tone with a buzzer-beating three-point shot right on quarter time.

As the game went on, the 31-year-old continued to have a major say on the contest, producing moments of brilliance regularly.

However, late in the contest he really came to the fore.

After Breakers guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright fouled out of the game with just over three minutes remaining, Ili took over, hitting a clutch floater and producing hustling plays to sink the opposition.

In the lead-up to the game, Ili spoke about the importance of the match with the club celebrating it’s annual multicultural round.

“There’s boys from all different ethnicities, everyone’s welcome here at this club and it’s a big round for us, we’re going to go out there and celebrate it,” Ili said.

Post-game United coach Dean Vickerman praised Ili’s performance and his developing leadership in the absence of Matthew Dellavedova.

“I thought both games over this weekend Shea took a massive step forward in just owning the last part of the game and putting the ball in his hands and directing where he wanted people,” Vickerman said.

“Shea walks into the timeout and is like ‘I’m done with switching, just let me lock in and guard somebody’. They’re the kind of leadership qualities that you don’t see at different times, but he wants to continue to take those battles on.”

The win sees Melbourne improve to an impressive 6-1 record, sitting pretty on top of the NBL standings.

They will next meet the Tasmanian JackJumpers at MyState Bank Arena on Friday the 27th of October.

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