Taipans to welcome back star NBL rookie

Star rookie Kouat Noi's (L) return to the Cairn Taipans will further boost the in-form NBL side.
Star rookie Kouat Noi's (L) return to the Cairn Taipans will further boost the in-form NBL side.

Cairns coach Mike Kelly has a problem on his hands and it has nothing to do with his red-hot NBL side.

The 13-10 Taipans are flying on the back of a 6-1 run since Boxing Day and all but guaranteed themselves a finals berth after beating the Adelaide 108-91 on Saturday night.

Making the hot streak all the more impressive is that the Taipans have been knocking up wins without the services of star rookie Kouat Noi, who injured his ankle on Boxing Day against South East Melbourne.

The young gun is expected to return to the Cairns line-up on Australia Day against the Phoenix in Melbourne but Kelly admitted he was unsure how to use the forward in the remaining fixtures.

"We definitely have to recognise that this group is playing really well and we have to bring Kouat back in a way that's going to lift this group higher. We're figuring that out," he said.

"We'll test the best way to do that but I'm really excited to bring him back because he's a great teammate, he's a really good basketball player and this group can always get better."

Noi was averaging more than 11 points and six rebounds per match before injuring his ankle and was a regular starter for Cairns in his debut season

His talent was highlighted when he sunk 22 points against the ladder-leading Sydney Kings in early December.

Kelly said Noi's fitness after missing a month of action would not be a problem in his return.

"He's 21 or 22 years old so I'm not too worried about his fitness," the coach said.

"He could probably have two training (sessions) and he's going to be in better shape than some of the older guys.

"I feel good about working him in with this group."

The Taipans had the game wrapped up against the 36ers with five minutes left on the clock, but Kelly held his nerve before rotating the reserves in late in the game.

He said that maintaining a big margin against the Adelaide was in the back of his mind.

"These guys (starters) were having no problem - they were very good at breaking the press; the pressure everywhere ... but percentage matters," Kelly said.

"It's that balance between giving young guys minutes and percentage as it goes towards finals.

"I was glad that some of the young guys could get minutes tonight because they've been great.

"Those guys deserve minutes as much as anybody."

Australian Associated Press