HAVING struggled to get his full team together all season having taken over as coach of the Perry Lakes Hawks, Matt Parsons now has his new team just about full strength and the form is reflecting that two weeks out from the playoffs.
Parsons arrived to coach Perry Lakes in 2017 on the back of being the Men’s SBL Coach of the Year the past two seasons and leading the Cockburn Cougars to the championship in 2016.
He then had every reason to expect his new Hawks team when at full strength to be a genuine contender again in 2017. The problem is that at no stage have they been at full strength, but the tide has turned in recent weeks and the results for Perry Lakes have dramatically improved.
Playoffs were beginning to slip out of reach for the Hawks when they had gone on a run of losing eight of 11 games culminating in a defeat in Kalgoorlie to the Giants back on June 10.
But since then the Hawks have welcomed players back and have been closer to full strength than at any other point this season, and the results have been impressive wins over the Joondalup City Wolves, Cockburn Cougars, Perth Redbacks, Kalamunda Eastern Suns and Goldfields Giants.
The only loss in that stretch came at the hands of the bottom placed Mandurah Magic so Perry Lakes has won five of their last six games to hold eighth position with a 12-11 record with games to finish against the South West Slammers, Lakeside Lightning and Geraldton Buccaneers.
The Hawks are still not guaranteed anything with those three tough matches to finish, but they are in the box seat for a playoff spot. Given the challenges they have faced during the season largely through the unavailability of key players, Parsons would well and truly have taken that.
“If you said to me at about Round 8 or 10 that we would be in this position I probably would have laughed because of the amount of work we had to do,” Parsons said.
“One of the things about coming to a new program is that you don’t really understand the impact you’re going to have implementing a new style, system and expectations on the group.
“We had to redefine those and reset those goals to get these guys playing the way they are expected to every week to be a winning program. The guys have bought into that now, it took a while, but they are playing really hard and I like to think it’s a new brand and style that they are embracing.”
Imports Rob Waters and Brian Carlwell are the only Perry Lakes players to have taken part in all 23 games so far in 2017 highlighting the personnel issues they have been having.
Mitch Clarke (2 games), Ben Purser (2), Rob Cassir (4), Ryan Smith (5), Travis Hayto (7), Jackson Simkovic (7), Matthew Adekponya (8), Ryan O’Sullivan (10) and Jordan Hickert (13) have all been unavailable at different points of the season for Perry Lakes.
There was a time this season when Parsons didn’t know if the Hawks’ luck would turn, but he has been pleased to see what can result in recent weeks with most of his squad up and running.
“It’s a good time to have bodies on the floor. We went through a large period of the season where we weren’t able to get any consistency at training, consistency in line-ups and consistency with bodies,” he said.
“But we’ve been able to string a few together now and we’ve been lucky in the sense that we had a lot of hard games early and the back end has opened up a bit for us. We’ve been winning some must-win games lately which has obviously been handy.”
Aside from Hickert who again hurt an ankle in last Friday night’s win in Rockingham and Simkovic, the Hawks do have their full squad available for the crucial last three games and two rounds of the season.
“We are pretty close to full strength now and on any given night we’ve got about 14 guys who we can put through that rotation and then it just comes down to match ups and things,” Parsons said.
“Jordy came back after another rehab program and he showed some really good signs early, and we are hoping to get him up and about as we go.
“But it’s good that we do have the bodies now and the guys are defining their roles, and playing to those roles now which makes it easy because when the chips are down we know what we need to do to get back into it.”
Eighth place went on the line last Friday night in Rockingham. It was a hard-fought battle most of the way, but the Hawks were on top virtually all evening and Parsons was delighted to have big man Carlwell set it up in the first half and then Waters come up big in the second half.
“BC was really active early especially when the game was at a high tempo, which is a little strange because we often let BC trail into our half-court sets. But he was up and about when we were playing that style which is a good look on him and it suits him,” he said.
“He is pretty active on the glass when he’s doing that. He set the tone for us in the first half in that game and then in the second half, Robbie Waters who has had a lean few months I would have thought stood up.
“He is a role player for us but he found his feet in that game and aptly supported Adekponya who had another great game and Adekponya who has been phenomenal the past month.”
The Hawks do have a team that looks capable now of really challenging the top Men’s SBL teams come playoff time, but Parsons is certainly not taking anything for granted in terms of even qualifying just yet.
“Once the playoffs start if we are lucky enough to get there then there will be a lot of work to do, but if we do get there I back ourselves against everybody,” Parsons said.
“It will be 12 people on 12 people and if we go at them longer than they go at us, anything can happen. We have two more weeks to focus on before we even can think about that because we need to continue this preparation mode and to make sure we stay in this good form.”
Photo by Sebpix Photography