BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 02: Injured Bullets player Mika Vukona looks on during game two of the NBL Semi Final Series between the Brisbane Bullets and the Perth Wildcats at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on March 02, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 02: Injured Bullets player Mika Vukona looks on during game two of the NBL Semi Final Series between the Brisbane Bullets and the Perth Wildcats at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on March 02, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Bullets star wanted to play with torn Achilles

FIVE-TIME NBL champion Mika Vukona says he was happy to put this partially torn Achilles on the line because finals basketball "is the time that you live for".

The Bullets power forward was a late withdrawal from Saturday's 84-79 loss to Perth that eliminated Brisbane from the play-offs and thrust the Wildcats into their 14th NBL grand final.

 

After being told late on Friday night that there was a tear through 40 per cent of his Achilles, the 36-year-old Vukona told Brisbane coaching staff he was still prepared to play against Perth in the do-or-die clash and risk further damage.

It was a gesture that brought Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis to tears.

"I was totally prepared to play. I just needed to know a little bit more information in terms of how bad it was,'' Vukona said.

"I said to the guys, 'look, I'll play', all four of them said no, they couldn't have it when you consider the long-term picture.

"It definitely hurt not to be out there with the boys. You work so hard all year to get to this point.

"This is money time, man. This is the time you live for.

"But it is a pretty major tear. I might have been more of a hindrance than anything.''

Injured Bullets player Mika Vukona with Adam Gibson. Picture: Jon Searle
Injured Bullets player Mika Vukona with Adam Gibson. Picture: Jon Searle

Vukona confirmed that he wanted to rest from New Zealand's World Cup qualifying games last week but also understood the Tall Blacks' push for him to play.

"It was a tough decision to make on both sides of the pond. It's coulda, woulda, shoulda. If I hadn't got injured, we wouldn't be talking about it. It's just the way it played out,'' he said.

Vukona is excited about what the Bullets can achieve next season after making the play-offs for the first time since 2008.

"We had high expectations. We wanted to win the championship but we've established a foundation with this group moving forward,'' he said.

"It's about building a culture, a can't-give-up attitude. It's not empty words from us.

"There's a lot of devastated guys in that dressing room at the moment but we'll be back.''