Ariel Hukporti is just 21 years old, but the big German NBA prospect hasn’t missed a beat and looks ready to burst onto the NBL24 scene. He is coming off an achilles injury and will look to make his presence known throughout the competition.
Hukporti is currently in his third season at Melbourne United as part of the NBL Next Stars program and is rising up the NBA draft calculations on the back of some eye-catching performances.
At 213cm tall and 113kg, there is a lot to like about the big centre. Especially when you factor in how well he moves and his growing confidence, which make him a tough match-up for opposition big men at both ends. He is locked and loaded for a big season if he can stay injury free.
After two matches, he leads the competition in blocks (eight) in total and sits second for rebounds with 24. Both of these stats are made more impressive by the fact that the 7-footer has only played just over 42 minutes this season.
After missing the entire 2022-23 NBL season with a ruptured achilles, Hukporti has recovered and is well poised to make a big influence on the competition. Melbourne United’s lead physio, Steve McAdam said prior to the season that the talented youngster got stronger by just looking at weights.
“The amount he can squat, he’s the strongest on the team – comfortably 200kg for multiple reps – then he’ll get straight out on the court and be ready to go,” he said.
“I think we’ll see him being clearly one of the strongest in the league.”
Hukporti showcased his strength and athletic ability in the opening two games of the season pulling down boards at both ends and blocking shots.
He played under 20 minutes in the season opener against South East Melbourne Phoenix but made a big impact and pleased coach, Dean Vickerman.
“Ariel’s impact to just fight for 14 rebounds in 20 minutes … (was) massive,” Vickerman said post-game.
“It was tough for them to score in the paint tonight with Ariel being around the rim … tonight he faced up, saw the floor, looked for the open man and it was big growth in that area.”
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Vickerman said the young gun’s offensive side of the game was an area that they were looking to grow as the season progressed.
“We continue to talk about the growth offensively and there was some mismatches and (it’s) just the patience that we’re still asking from him,” he said.
“Ariel did a really good job (on Tyler Cook) in sitting back and waiting and coming, then he’d go block things late.”
NBA veteran and teammate, Matthew Dellavedova dropped 19 points on the night and spoke about the impact that Hukporti has on the group.
“He just brings amazing energy, 14 rebounds in 19 minutes, five offensive, three blocked shots, you want to reward him for his efforts because he really is anchoring the defence,” he said.
“He’s such a threat, he’s somehow more athletic so the rehab team have done a good job with him … he’s only going to get better as the season goes on.”
The German finished with first game 14 rebounds, five points, three blocks and a steal.
He was also impressive in United’s second match against the Adelaide 36ers on Sunday earning player of the game honours. He had a greater presence at the offensive end as he shot at 80 per cent to finish the game with 10 rebounds, 10 points and five blocks.
Speaking post-game, Hukporti spoke about his drive to bring a high-level of energy for the team and lift those around him to play better.
“I’ve been showing it at practice, I’ve been showing it on the court, I’m giving everything just to win,” he said.
“The second half I was trying to get the team up, just bringing the energy as a young guy, blocking shots, running down the floor, setting good screens, getting people open.”
Hukporti was a key part of Melbourne United’s success in the Blitz just a few weeks ago as they took out the Loggins-Bruton Cup with a perfect 3-0 record. But the big man has moved his sights onto a championship with United.
He played close to 20 minutes in each game and scored 35 points over the tournament cashing in on plenty of blocks and rebounds.
His final game against Sydney Kings was his best as he dropped 19 points to go along with eight boards, a couple assists and a block.
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