Ariel Hukporti has suffered a torn left Achilles and will miss the entirety of the 2022-23 NBL season, Melbourne United confirmed on Thursday.
The injury occurred during the third quarter of United's NBL Blitz matchup with the Perth Wildcats in Darwin.
With his team up double digits, the 20-year-old Hukporti slipped near the opposing free throw line and immediately looked behind him - often the tell-tail sign of a significant Achilles injury; the player seeing if he had been kicked - before grabbing the back of his left foot.
Hukporti lay on the floor crying in pain for several minutes and was quickly surrounded by his teammates and United's medical staff. He was carried to the locker room and couldn't put weight on his left foot.
"We're hurting as a club because of the love we have for Ariel and how much he means to us, not just as an athlete, but as a great person," United head coach Dean Vickerman said.
"We'll be here for him every step of the recovery process and will fully support Ariel with anything he needs during the rehab."
It's a significant blow for Hukporti, who came in at No. 56 on ESPN's most recent 2023 mock draft, with multiple NBA teams traveling to Darwin Basketball Stadium in part to get eyes on him.
With the injury, United would lose a starting-level big-man less than two weeks out from their season opener. They're now expected to lean more heavily on Isaac Humphries, who's now the only healthy true centre remaining on Vickerman's roster.
Hukporti, out of Germany, signed with United as a Next Star ahead of the 2021-22 NBL season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game during his first campaign with Melbourne.