Kouat Noi of the Cairns Taipans trains at the Cairns Basketball Stadium ahead of the team's National Basketball League (NBL) match against the New Zealand Breakers at the Cairns Convention Centre. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE.
Kouat Noi of the Cairns Taipans trains at the Cairns Basketball Stadium ahead of the team's National Basketball League (NBL) match against the New Zealand Breakers at the Cairns Convention Centre. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE.

Star’s replacement rises to challenge for Taipans

THE Taipans admit frustration has set in about the prolonged absence of rookie forward Kouat Noi but they could be much stronger feelings without the impressive play of his replacement.

The 22-year-old trained strongly on Monday, coach Mike Kelly declared on Tuesday after practice, but the first-year NBL talent did not appear to do much at the Tuesday session with his ongoing high ankle sprain recovery.

The coaching staff are still hopeful the Sudanese-Australian can suit up on Thursday evening but if he is sitting again, combo-guard Mirko Djeric is more than ready to continue his increased output in the starting unit.

The 24-year-old Djeric was known as a streaky shooter in his time with the Townsville Crocodiles previously but has added much more to his game in his first season with the Taipans.

In the four games Noi has missed - all Taipans victories - Djeric has been one of Cairns' more consistent players, contributing almost 11 points, six rebounds and three assists a contest.

Those numbers are up from just over six points, two rebounds and one assist in his 12 games coming from the bench this season.

Cairns Taipans coach Mike Kelly at the Cairns Basketball Stadium ahead of the team's National Basketball League (NBL) match against the New Zealand Breakers at the Cairns Convention Centre. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE.
Cairns Taipans coach Mike Kelly at the Cairns Basketball Stadium ahead of the team's National Basketball League (NBL) match against the New Zealand Breakers at the Cairns Convention Centre. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE.

Obviously, more game time will usually lead to better statistics for Djeric but he is finding several different ways to influence the game.

He is in the top ten for three-point percentage in the competition as well as recording a career high six assists the other day against the Bullets.

Kelly says the likely finals-bound club are still missing Noi's rebounding impact, but has been pleased with what Djeric, as well as Jarrod Kenny and Fabijan Krslovic, have provided with the Rookie of the Year contender on the sidelines.

"We need to continue to team rebound and be better as a team on the boards," Kelly said. "Different guys have stepped up and we have extended minutes of some guys, we need to find a way to do it over an extended period if Kouat is not ready as soon as we hope he is."

It was not long ago Cairns' bench only contributed two points in an entire game and co-captain DJ Newbill says the Noi replacements have been huge.

Scott Machado of the Cairns Taipans trains at the Cairns Basketball Stadium ahead of the team's National Basketball League (NBL) match against the New Zealand Breakers at the Cairns Convention Centre. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE.
Scott Machado of the Cairns Taipans trains at the Cairns Basketball Stadium ahead of the team's National Basketball League (NBL) match against the New Zealand Breakers at the Cairns Convention Centre. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE.

"That is what pro basketball is, next man up," Newbill said.

"We want Kouat back, hopefully he can have a speedy recovery, but if not, those guys will be ready to play."