Melbourne United's newest big man relishing NBL opportunity

Jo Lual-Acuil may be new to Melbourne United, but he’s already got a mindset befitting of a championship favourite.

United went down to a young New Zealand Breakers side 97-76 Friday night at the pre-season NBL Blitz. After a game in which they shot just 39% from the field and 18% from three, Lual-Acuil wasn’t content looking for positives from the disappointing performance.

“I mean, there are no moral victories,” Lual-Acuil told The Pick and Roll.

“It’s just about getting better every day, so if we get positives out of it and learn from it and it makes us better down the road then it’s completely worth it.”

It’s that drive to improve that made him a standout over four years at Baylor University, which culminated in an All-Big 12 Third Team nod in his senior year. From there, he spent his first professional season in Israel, first with Hapoel Jerusalem and then with Hapoel Galil Elyon.

Now, he’s settling into life back home Down Under after signing with Melbourne in August. Joining his fourth set of teammates in the space of just over a year, the 213cm big man is relishing the opportunity to grow with a new group of players as they chase an NBL title.

“It’s been a great experience. I’m back home, nothing beats that,” he said.

“The biggest thing has just been being around a great group of guys and everybody having one common goal, it’s been fun.”

Lual-Acuil added 8 points on 3 of 6 shooting in 14 minutes off the bench against the Breakers. He’s a new face among multiple others in the group, with imports Shawn Long and Melo Trimble the biggest names among a host of offseason signings. Lual-Acuil says it’s been a learning experience for all of the new players as they find their feet under coach Dean Vickerman.

“They’re all really great players, they all bring different stuff to the table. And I’m new too, so I’m trying to get integrated into the system myself,” he said.

That process has been made easier by the presence of some seasoned veterans on the roster, with players like David Barlow and Chris Goulding spending multiple seasons in Melbourne and playing for Vickerman. Despite both being absent while with the Boomers at the FIBA World Cup, Luil-Acuil says he’s already been enjoying learning from the best.

“Looking up to guys like Dave [Barlow], Chris [Goulding], Macca [Mitch McCarron], guys like that are just helping us with the system and helping us get comfortable,” he said. “You just have to do what you can and just try to be better, and then once they come in those guys already know what to do— they’re vets in this league. Their addition [after the World Cup] is just a plus, cream on top of the cake basically.”

Despite plenty of talk about slow progress and learning as they go, Luil-Acuil’s competitive nature still doesn’t stay hidden for long. His goal for the season?

“Win a championship. That’s pretty much it.”

A simple goal for his first NBL season, and one that his United teammates would surely approve of.