IT is often easy for any club to pay lip service to having young players in their squad and not entrusting them with big minutes or key roles. But the opposite is the case at the Perth Redbacks and coach Nik Lackovic couldn’t be prouder.
The Redbacks have tremendous experience and leadership obviously and the performances of Shawn Redhage, Joel Wagner and Ben Smith is a significant reason why they currently sit on an 8-3 record this season despite having never been at full-strength.
Michael Vigor is back now and Lee Roberts having now completed his championship-winning season in Israel alongside Jermaine Beal for Ironi Nes-Ziona means the Redbacks are nearing full-strength.
That will include the returns of Marshall Nelson and Tyler Viskovich as well.
While the Redbacks have plenty of experienced talent, it’s hard to argue with the tremendous faith Lackovic has placed in young players like Kyle Bowen, Diing Mawein, Jayden Stone, Jack Wagner and Riley Chappell have been making.
And with Bowen to soon depart for the Australian Institute of Sport and Viskovich, Nelson, Stone and Chappell having all either started or will soon begin their college careers, it’s hard to argue the Redbacks are doing an outstanding job in development.
The fact that the Redbacks are not afraid to throw the young players in the deep by having great responsibility on the team and at times playing big minutes, and being trusted in match ups against some experienced stars, having plays run for them and being put in clutch situations without a doubt helps to fast track their development.
Winning is obviously the overall goal and the Redbacks have been doing well with that to start the 2017 season winning eight of the opening 11 games.
Lackovic knows that with the likes of Wagner, Redhage and Smith, and now Vigor and Roberts he will have great veteran leadership who also produce impressive performances.
But for them to set the tone for the young players and the youth to come in and have such significant impact is what is most pleasing for him.
“I’m just happy for the kids, for the team and for our leaders who have bought in and understand the value of what they are. If you watch our team and our game, we get guys who are up yelling and screaming it doesn’t matter if they play two or 32 minutes,” Lackovic said.
“They are supportive of the team and that’s based on what our culture is. That’s what I’m most happy about. To measure it on wins and losses is great, but if we continue to develop our culture and bring through the young guys, and have trust in our system with everyone learning the responsibility and being committed to their roles then we’ll be happy.
“Riley Chappell has played about 10 games of SBL and he is making the most of his chances by playing his role and getting better every week. Kyle Bowen is 16 years of age, Jack Wagner is carrying a bit of an injury but is continuing and Geordie Murray has been a great addition.
“Then there’s other 17 or 18-year-old kids on the bench that are just sitting there doing the right things and we have tremendous leaders like Joel, Ben, Shawn and now that he’s back, Mike.
“They set the standard and I’m happy for that because we focused on working hard to trust our development, system and culture. They are the three areas that we measure whether or not we are being competitive with great energy. If that’s the case, the wins will come.”
Nothing is handed to the players at the Redbacks though. They put in the hard work required and buy fully into the team culture set up by Lackovic and his leadership group, they get rewarded.
And this season alone that has seen 16-year-old Bowen start in the centre spot and lock horns with some of the monsters of the league that is only going to serve him well for the rest of his career as he heads to the AIS.
Before Stone’s departure, he was hitting clutch shots and giving the Redbacks a chance to come back and beat the Perry Lakes Hawks a couple of weeks back. When Stone departed, it was then rookie Chappell who stepped up and more than showed he’s up to playing at the level.
On the back of Nelson and Viskovich’s development previously, Lackovic couldn’t be more proud to see the way the young players are responding to the faith he puts in them.
“We talk about trust and they earn that trust at practice. Each one of them have to continue to do that by showing up and outworking each other, and we’ll put them in spots on the floor that converts into minutes,” he said.
“In that Perry Lakes game, I went to put Joel back in during the fourth quarter and he just told me to leave Jayden in because he was doing a hell of a job.
“He trusted Jayden and he hit some clutch shots for us down the stretch. The guys just back and support each other, they believe in what we’re doing and it has been tremendous to watch. I’m really proud and pleased for them, they deserve the credit.”
Perth must be commended for having such a strong start to the season minus reigning club MVP Vigor and star import Roberts.
Lackovic is looking forward to having them back on the court together now potentially this weekend for the double-header against the South West Slammers and Lakeside Lightning.
“Mike was our MVP last year and he is our glue guy. He makes everything click that much smoother who will allow Shawn and Ben to be that much more efficient. I created this system around guys like Mike, Shawn and Joel,” he said.
“Mike is tremendous in anchoring our defence, his IQ is as good I’ve seen out there on the floor and he isn’t just the best Aussie big guy out there, in my opinion he is the best big man. In terms of what we need for us, I can’t find a better big guy for that.
“Then we have Lee who is going to be joining us who is just a warrior. He talks about just wanting to rebound, defend, run the floor and just do all the little things. He’ll bring that element of ruggedness and toughness that every team searches for and needs.”
While Lackovic is looking forward to seeing how his team grows this season with Vigor and Roberts hitting the floor alongside Redhage, Wagner and Smith, he is just as excited to welcome back Nelson, Viskovich and Zac Gattorna as players on the rise.
“Don’t forget the two kids who are coming back from college. Tyler Viskovich is 6’9 and played a great role for us and started the first six games. Marshall Nelson is an aggressive, prolific scorer and a guy who can have big quarters,” Lackovic said.
“He has evolved and matured and grown as well. That doesn’t mean it’s going to convert to wins, but we are happy with what we’ve got based on development and what’s coming in. We’ll just take it one week at a time as they say.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia