SAM Oatman’s time at the helm as coach of the Lakeside Lightning in the SBL has come to an end earlier than he hoped, but he will forever be thankful for the opportunity and it has awakened his desire to be a career coach.
Oatman arrived to coach the Lightning at the start of 2016 having never previously coached before in his own right, but basketball had been his life. He played in college at East Tennessee State University and then as a professional in the United Kingdom with the Coventry Crusaders before transitioning into an assistant coach role.
Following his time in the UK, he returned to the United States and settled back in Wisconsin before he was told the job with Lakeside was available and that he should apply.
He agreed and took the chance given his passion and understanding of basketball. Immediately upon arrival with the Lightning it became obvious that Lakeside had made an intuitive decision to try and get their program back on track.
While Oatman has narrow missed getting the Lightning into the playoffs both seasons, the development of young players like Daniel Grida, Corey Shervill and Rowan Mackenzie, just to name three, only goes to show how dramatically they have improved and developed with him as coach.
Add in the fact that every player that has played under Oatman the past two years has the utmost respect for him and the way he has coached, and sometimes the success of someone’s coaching tenure is measured on more than just wins and losses.
It was a remarkably young group that Oatman was in charge of through 2017 and it was a season that certainly had its challenges including the loss of key players and injuries to others.
But he as a coach never gave up and with Shervill and Mackenzie in particular thriving by the end of the season along with imports James Padgett and Devon Atkinson, Lakeside won its last four games and only narrowly missed out on a playoff berth where they could have done some damage.
However, in the lead up to the final game last Friday night against the league-leading Willetton Tigers, Oatman was informed by the Lakeside hierarchy that he’s contract wouldn’t be renewed and that his two-year tenure that promised an even brighter future wouldn’t be continuing.
That created for quite the emotional week for Oatman, his wife Laura and their three children as after two years living in Perth and being involved at Lakeside, they had settled in tremendously and it was feeling like home and they were more than prepared to stay longer.
But it wasn’t to be and Friday’s game was his last in charge and his team gave him a memorable send off with a win over the regular season champion Tigers and it was only fitting that youngsters Shervill and Mackenzie were right at the centre of that highlighting his work developing young players.
Oatman was proud of everything he was able to do with the Lightning over the past two years, but especially to end this season with the four straight wins and ending with the victory against Willetton.
While he was hoping to continue at Lakeside in 2018 all things considered and hearing the news last week did create some emotional moments before and after the game on Friday, he’ll always be appreciative of the Lightning for giving him an opportunity.
“It has been an emotional week and a mixed bag of emotions. We felt every emotion under the sun really this week but at the end of the day I feel thankful and blessed that we’ve got to do this. Kudos to Lakeside for taking a risk and a chance on somebody like myself,” Oatman said.
“This wasn’t an easy thing for them to do and it was a big investment on their part to bring a whole family over here from the States. I think overall it’s been a good experience for both parties and I wish them nothing but the best moving forward.”
Oatman was caught a little by surprise last Tuesday night when informed of the club’s decision not to renew his contract, but he will always be thankful of the chance Lakeside provided him and if it happens to be his only two years in Perth and indeed Australia, his memories will be positive.
“I’m just really thankful and blessed that I had this opportunity and experience. I will forever be grateful that I was able to be part of what God is doing here at Lakeside, it’s a special place and I’m happy with what we’ve done,” he said.
“I probably could have done better in several areas but it was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot, and met a lot of great people. I will always think fondly of this place and it’s always going to hold a special place in our hearts. I’m just really excited about what the future holds for myself and my family.”
Before Oatman arrived in Perth in 2016 it was a great unknown both if he could coach at this level having never had the opportunity to do so previously, but also if it’s something he wanted to pursue long-term.
Whether he wants to now make a career out of coaching is easier to answer and the passion it has awakened inside himself to coach a team, help develop players and create a culture within a group over a period of time is strong.
While opportunities coming up are out of his hands, Oatman would love to now continue his coaching journey following the past two years at Lakeside.
As for whether he can coach or not, anyone who played with or against him the last two years, anyone who coached alongside him or against him, or anyone that witnessed a Lightning game or training session would know that Oatman is an absolute natural as a coach.
His basketball knowledge and intuition is outstanding and while he’s not sure what’s next, coaching is something that appears made for him and he hopes opportunities present where he can continue doing it.
“I do love to coach and I feel like it’s something that I have a strong desire to do if it’s the right opportunity. It can be a grind and a challenge to balance the work-home life even here in the context of the SBL where we don’t train every day and the games are on weekends,” he said.
“It’s still a challenge to balance that so it would have to be the right fit for my family and I. My wife, God bless her, and my kids have followed me and my basketball career all over the world as a player and now as a coach.
“It’s not about me all the time and I want to make sure they have a good sense of security and stability in our next move, and I want my wife to feel like she can pursue some of her dreams as well.
“This was a dream come true and most people don’t get these opportunities, especially American guys and someone like myself who had never coached before. I’m really thankful and blessed.”
While Oatman knows continuing at Lakeside won’t be happening in 2018, if any other opportunities presented in Perth or indeed any other part of Australia, he would consider them and his family would be more than open to staying.
But college prospects back in the United States is another opportunity he might look into, but for now he’s just letting it sink in that his two-year journey at Lakeside has come to an end.
“We would love to be able to stay here and I would love to continue to coach. It’s not going to be here at Lakeside unfortunately, but we have really enjoyed Perth, Western Australia and the whole experience of living here,” Oatman said.
“The people we’ve met and the relationships we’ve built have been phenomenal. That will be what we miss most. Who knows what the future holds.
“I’m sure if my family back home reads this they will be giving us a call telling us we better move back to the States, but we are open to wherever God may lead us and if that means another opportunity here or in another part of Australia that would be something we would definitely be interested in.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia