Mika raring for shot at redemption
When you own five NBL championship rings, a semi-final exit is never going to be a satisfactory result.
So Brisbane Bullets hardman Mika Vukona enters yet another NBL season with a fire in his belly.
The 37-year-old will bring up his 450-game milestone in the 2019-20 season which gets underway this Thursday when Melbourne United host South East Melbourne Phoenix in the first-ever "Throwdown" derby.
Live stream the 2019/20 NBL Season with ESPN on KAYO with your TV, Mobile, Tablet or Laptop. Get your 14 day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Brisbane have to wait until Sunday to open their account when they take on LaMelo Ball and the Illawarra Hawks in Wollongong.
And that is more than long enough for Vukona and the Bullets who fell 2-0 to eventual champion Perth in last season's semi-final series.
Vukona missed the second game with an Achilles injury but offered to play and risk possible career-ending damage in a move that brought Bullets head coach Andrej Lemanis to tears in the post-match press conference.
"We weren't happy with how things ended last season,'' Vukona said.
"It's pretty easy to feel refreshed and refocused ahead of a new season when you lose like we did against Perth.
"Everyone in the team feels like we should have gone further than we did but you learn your lessons, reload and come back bigger and better.
"It's been a long pre-season for us. Losing in the semi-finals is all you think about and when you have that in the front of your mind, you want to make amends.
"It's going to be tough because every team seems to have reloaded but we've kept together the core from last year's team and added a few new pieces so we are looking forward to getting started.''
Brisbane finished their pre-season campaign with an 85-82 win over Perth at USC Stadium on Friday night to follow their overall victory in the NBL Blitz when they thrashed the NBL1 All-Stars and finished over the top of Adelaide.
They split a road trip against the Melbourne teams and lost both games to Cairns in Cairns earlier this month in a pre-season that was disrupted by injuries, World Cup commitments and a baby boom.
After recovering from his Achilles injury, Vukona hurt his knee during the New Zealand NBL season which ruled him out of the World Cup with the Tall Blacks.
He is back on court now and provided a few trademark team-first one per centers in the win over the Wildcats on the Sunshine Coast when he even engaged in some friendly banter with Perth coach Trevor Gleeson while he was shooting free throws.
"The injuries have been frustrating. The body feels good but then you have these little accidents. After the World Cup was out of the equation I was able to really focus on getting things right and being ready to go for the Bullets,'' Vukona said.