The Hawks are ready to attack the NBL Blitz with a near-full complement of talent after coach Jacob Jackomas confirmed Next Star AJ Johnson will make this week's trip to Queensland.
Illawarra copped its first setback six weeks out from this year's NBL season-opener when Johnson suffered a broken nose at training in mid-August. The 18-year-old high school sensation was forced from the floor after colliding with captain Sam Froling in a scrimmage.
Johnson underwent surgery for the issue and has now returned to the floor for two training sessions, including on Wednesday at the Snakepit where he was sporting a face mask.
It's a timely boost for Illawarra ahead of the Blitz pre-season tournament getting under way on the Gold Coast this Saturday. The Hawks tip-off their campaign against Melbourne United next Monday before facing Brisbane (September 20) and Cairns (September 22).
"I think AJ's feeling good... he'll be playing at the Blitz," Jackomas told reporters on Wednesday.
"He's obviously missed a lot of practise and it doesn't matter who you are, you need practise. But he's come back out of this thing a lot more confident by watching, so we're happy with him."
Illawarra are set to take near-full strength roster to the Blitz, though import Justin Robinson remains in doubt due to a leg complaint. They are expected to make a call on his availability in the coming days.
Jackomas said the Hawks would use the tournament to give all of their players an opportunity.
"We've put the work in. It's been scrappy, it's been physical and a little bit emotional," he said.
"But now we get to go away and spend some time together. We will use the next couple of days leading into sharpen up and make sure we know everything, and put people in opportunities to be in a position for game one. We're pretty close on what our rotations will be, but the season is a long season, so everyone is going to be given a chance.
"We'll be mixing some stuff up, but also making sure we play our best line-up in one of the games. I don't know what game it's going to be yet."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.