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NBL: Sydney Kings vs. Illawarra Hawks, RJ Hunter injury

The Sydney Kings went down to the Illawarra Hawks in their first game of the year but the side will be more concerned about an injury to its marquee recruit.

It was supposed to be their triumphant return to the court but the Sydney Kings’ first game of the year has ended in both insult, at the hands of their most bitter rival, and injury to star recruit RJ Hunter.

Covid-related postponements meant neither the Kings nor the Illawarra Hawks had taken to the court in 2022 before Thursday night’s 97-89 Freeway Series win to the Hawks.

Former NBA first round draft pick Hunter had had to wait even longer than that, with knee soreness keeping him out since December 16.

His return to the fray lasted less than ten minutes.

With the rock in his hands just outside the arc in the first quarter, Hunter abruptly hunched over in pain without a hand being laid on him.

The American quickly hit the deck and clutched his knee in anguish, eventually requiring the assistance of two trainers to make the short distance off the court.

Ominously, the Hawks scored eight unanswered points after Hunter left the contest to take the lead for the first time and force a Kings time-out.

Medical staff suspect Hunter has suffered a patella tendon injury, meaning his lay-off could be a long one.

The Kings must now decide as soon as possible whether to take another chance on the injury-prone Hunter or go to market for his replacement.

“If it’s a long gap, you’re going to have to get a new import,” said Corey Williams in commentary for ESPN.

“This league is too good, the competition is too tough for you to just sit and wait again for a player who’s re-injured. You need to get a new import.”

A high-quality, high-octane contest unfolded in the Illawarra and the American imports led the charge.

Tyler Harvey shook off the Hawks’ slow start to rack up 19 points by three-quarter time. Aussie Sam Froling worked hard for 27 points, nine rebounds and two steals at the final buzzer.

On his return from an ankle injury, Jaylen Adams had three assists within two-and-a-half minutes of the game and was the architect of the Kings’ early 11-0 lead.

The contest was never as one-sided again, and when Chase Buford injected Adams back into the contest after a restful third quarter, he would’ve hoped for immediate impact.

Instead, the Hawks kept their feet on the accelerator to take the chocolates home.

The Kings faithful mightn’t have gotten the result they were after but the passion and intensity on show from both sides was exactly what Aussie basketball fans missed during a month of Covid disruptions.

Tenacious B

Late in the second quarter, Kings veteran Shaun Bruce fell to the ground attempting a steal on Duop Reath.

The much smaller Bruce refused to be deterred and while still on his knees, he regathered the ball.

From the ground, he passed half the length of the court and connected with Cooks, whose ensuing dunk was an undisputed highlight of the game.

His CV mightn’t boast the NBA stints that Adams’ does, but the play was all heart from the back-up Kings guard.

Duop kept quiet

There were bound to be some signs of rust after such a long hiatus but Hawks star Duop Reath was hardly sighted on Thursday night.

In Reath’s last game, he scored 21 points to go with 13 rebounds and three blocks.

But on Thursday, he sat the entire last quarter out, having been restricted to only six points and four rebounds. It was undoubtedly his quietest game of the season.

Originally published as NBL: Sydney Kings’ star recruit injured in loss to Illawarra Hawks

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