NZ basketball prodigy signs two-year deal with Aussie NBL club after impressive US college season

South East Melbourne Phoenix have handed a maiden professional contract to Kiwi big Yanni Wetzell following some impressive college deeds in the United States.

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After a standout season with San Diego State University, Yanni Wetzell came back to NZ where he’s faced another big challenge. Source: 1 NEWS

Wetzell, 24, has signed a two-season NBL deal following a dominant season with San Diego State Aztecs, where he was the starting centre in their run to the "March Madness" playoffs.

Covid-19 prevented the season going any further but Wetzell's averages of 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in San Diego's 30-2 season raised his profile.

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Yanni Wetzell’s San Diego Aztecs had the potential to take out a National title this year, however, an abrupt end to the season thwarted any chance of that happening. Source: 1 NEWS

A former junior tennis talent, he didn't begin playing basketball until his final year of secondary school in Auckland.

He was identified by now-Phoenix assistant coach Judd Flavell, who introduced Wetzell to the NZ Breakers programme.

He said joining a club who were entering just their second season of existence made it an exciting prospect.

Yanni Wetzell hangs on the rim after dunking during the game between the San Diego Christian Hawks and the San Diego State University Aztecs. Source: Getty

"It's always been a dream of mine to play either back home in New Zealand or for one of the Australian teams in the NBL," he said.

"I'm super pumped to join a club that's in their early stages of NBL history and trying to create something special and shoot for a championship from day one."

The athletic 2.08m Wetzell will have an option on his second season.

He effectively replaces the retired Tai Wesley, joining Dane Pineau in an exciting inside combination. Pineau signed a three-year extension last week.

Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi are other notable names shifting to the Phoenix for the season scheduled to start in December.