The 22-year-old is eager to help add more silverware to an already populated trophy cabinet for his hometown Saints. Helu spent 2021 with the Southland Sharks, compiling averages of 6.0 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 18 appearances. He said it wasn’t an easy decision to leave the Sharks and is incredibly grateful for everything he learned from head coach Rob Beveridge.
“I learnt a lot from coach Bevo, he was awesome. He instilled a lot of confidence in me, and I think that’s carried over into this year. Just seeing the progress I’ve made from last year to this year, it gives me confidence.
“I had a lot of fun playing for the Sharks. It sucks to leave, but I’m happy that I get to play at home,” said Helu.
Helu’s excited about the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family again, as well as reunite with a few familiar faces on the Saints.
“It means a lot to get this opportunity. I’m a big family guy, I love being around my friends and family so being able to play in front of them on a consistent basis is exciting. I want to bring another championship to the city, I thought it was pretty cool how last year a lot of the players on the Saints were from Wellington and it’s the same again this year.
“I grew up playing with Francis [Wineera-Mulvihill], so it’s going to be great playing with guys like him again too.”
A team with such a rich winning history like the Saints will always set the bar high, something that Helu says he noticed from day one.
“The standard is really high. The trainings have probably been the hardest of any team I’ve been on because of the standard they hold everyone to. It brings the best out of everyone, though.
“We know that their number one priority is winning, so it makes the players bring their A game and perform at the highest level. Whether it’s a video session, weightlifting, you have to be at the top of your game all the time.”
Helu predominantly found himself playing the two-guard spot with the Sharks, but the Saints are planning to utilize him more at the point and Helu has been working during the offseason to make that transition.
“I think I’m going to play more of the one. Bevo had me playing as more of a two-guard that would look to score, but I definitely want to progress more into that one spot. Talking with coach [Guy] Molloy, it sounds like they’ve carved out a nice role for me to play the 1-2 in more of a combo role.”
Helu has always been a tough player to stop downhill, and he feels that he can have even more of an impact from the point guard position.
“Putting pressure on the rim, I think that’s where I excel. Making the right reads and passes. I’ve worked a lot on my defence, as I struggled a bit to guard some of the higher end players in the league last season, but I’ve worked really hard this year so I’m hoping to make a difference on that end too.”
The Saints have clear intentions to repeat as champions again in 2022 and that’s reflected by some of their offseason additions. Tom Vodanovich - the 2020 Sal’s NBL MVP – is one of the big names the Saints added, along with four-time NBL champion Jordan Ngatai. Helu says being able to play with guys like that is invaluable.
“They were guys that I watched in high school. I even remember when I was in Year 7 or 8 and I went down to the local stadium to watch them. They’ve always been idols to me, so getting the opportunity to learn from them this season is going to be really beneficial especially with the ANBL experience they have. That’s what a lot of us are striving to get to, so hopefully I can pick up a lot from them.”
Check out Johnny Helu's 2021 Sal’s NBL highlights: