Hukporti pushing through pain to deliver for United
Melbourne United Media
Across the course of the NBL24 season, Ariel Hukporti’s play has been so strong that many have called the towering German the league’s most impactful Next Star.
Hukporti leads the league in individual defensive rating (minimum 300 minutes played), something he also did in his rookie season, while also ranking first in blocks, second in rebounds, sixth in steals and seventh in scoring among players 22 years or younger.
A feat that however makes all of this more impressive is the fact he’s done this while secretly battling through immense pain after taking an elbow to the face at the start of 2024, which shattered two of his front teeth.
Not one to be held down, Hukporti put his head down and took to the court, even stepping into the starting lineup while Jo Lual-Acuil Jr missed time due to personal reasons.
Speaking ahead of United’s Round 19 game against the New Zealand Breakers, Hukporti broke down what the past few weeks have been like.
“I just caught an elbow in practice… straight to the mouth,” he explained.
“Broke two of my teeth, but I’m used to that from Europe… we Europeans, we’re not (concerned) with pain so I just took it on my chest and said ‘alright, I have to play.'
"Jo had some personal reasons to be away so I had to step up for the team.”
The Next Star has been in heavy consideration for both the Next Generation and Defensive Player of the Year awards, while also catching the attention of a number of NBA franchises ahead of the NBA Draft.
Head Coach Dean Vickerman touched on what makes the 21-year-old so valuable to the ladder leaders.
“He’s been great. He doesn’t take possessions off,” he said.
“He’s engaged, he’s helping his teammates out as much as possible. He can be frustrated if he doesn’t get as much help at times and can be frustrated at refs but I think he moves on so quickly, everybody’s going to have little frustrations in games.
“That, the work ethic and understanding what he needs every day and him owning his own development have been massive growths.”
Fans will get their next chance to see Hukporti continue his upward trajectory on Sunday afternoon when Melbourne face New Zealand at John Cain Arena.
With tickets sold out, supporters that can’t make it to the game can tune in for free via 10 Peach and Kayo Freebies.