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Taipans bullish about key returnee

CAIRNS may have lost dual-Most Improved Player Keanu Pinder to his hometown Perth Wildcats, but retaining highly-sought free agent guard Bul Kuol is a coup for the Taipans, already buoyed by securing Kiwi-born big Sam Mennenga to join the NBL's 2023 Next Generation award-winner Sam Waardenburg.

Busy formalising its local content before confirming its imports, Cairns already has Tahjere McCall, Waardenburg, Lat Mayen and Jonah Antonio under contract.

Retaining Kuol was a big "get" as the versatile wing who genuinely plays both ends of the floor with equally relentless commitment, was widely pursued by rival clubs.

His 2023 averages of 10.3 points at 42 per cent, 1.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds fail to accurately convey his impact or reflect his importance to a Taipans team which made it to the semi finals despite several key injuries. 

They even took eventual champion Sydney to three games.

Mennenga, 21, is another huge signing, the 206cm forward averaging 15.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game for the Davidson Wildcats in 2022-23, before forsaking his senior year at college to join the Orangemen for two years. 

With the emergence of Lat Mayen this past season, popular Taipans forward Majok Deng has joined the free agency market. Mayen, 24 and 206cm, maximised his opportunites under Cairns coach Adam Forde and was even elevated to start in several games.

Antonio's 20-point career high in Game 1 of the best-of-three semi finals against the Kings revealed good times in store for him and the Orange Army.

And New Zealand-born Waardenburg, 24 and 208cm, was another great "find" by Forde, his game growing as the season progressed, until he delivered 11.3 ppg at 53 per cent, with 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists across 2022-23.

Instead of NBL Rookie of the Year, he won its replacement Next Gen award.

Kuol's retention, even on only a one-year deal, reveals that he too respected the environment which helped him achieve his best personal results.

Elsewhere, Melbourne United has lost free agent big Mason Peatling to Illawarra Hawks but regained Ariel Hukporti as a Next Star after injury forced him to miss the entire 2022-23 campaign.

Hukporti, 213cm and 21 later this month, was born in Germany and ultimately is NBA bound.

Apr 6

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.