THE South West Slammers have played as exciting and attractive a brand of basketball as we’ve seen in the SBL for some time and coach Charles Nix was never sure he would have his full squad back available, but he does and he’s excited for the quarter-final battle with the Perth Redbacks.
The Slammers began the season without Brian Voelkel in the opening three games as they started 0-4, but once he got into the line-up things began to click.
South West got its first win against Mandurah at home and then after a nail-biting loss to Willetton, went on a four-game winning run before a slip up at home to the Buccs.
But the Slammers were really emerging as a championship threat going on another four-game winning run before a two-point loss in Geraldton.
The Slammers had some close calls in the run home to close the season including narrow losses to Kalamunda, Willetton and Joondalup that likely cost a top four spot, but they still did well to end up fifth with a 15-11 record.
They were missing important four man Chris Douglas over the last couple of weeks as well while emerging swingman Travis Durnin appearing to be out for the season with a knee injury.
But Durnin made a surprise return last week against the Wolves and had a significant impact while Douglas will now return in time for Game 1 of the quarter-final match up with the Perth Redbacks at Belmont Oasis on Saturday night.
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Slammers coach Charles Nix didn’t think he’d get a chance to have a full strength team at his disposal for the playoffs, but that’s now the case with Douglas and Durnin both capable of giving Clive Weeden some much-needed support in the front court.
Then with Tre Nichols, Michael Lay, Teny Puot and Voelkel running the ship and keeping the Slammers on the move, Nix is feeling good about their chances entering the finals.
“I didn’t think we’d get back to full strength to be honest, I thought we were probably carrying a couple of injuries but everything has sort of fallen into place at this stage,” Nix said.
“There will be no excuses, though, and if we come out next week and can’t get it done it’s not because we’re not at full strength, it’s because the other team will be better on the night. We are excited to have a full team back on the court.”
The return of Durnin was a significant boost for the Slammers last Saturday night after he was sidelined with a knee injury that had threatened his season.
But with Weeden battling foul trouble all night and Douglas still sidelined, Durnin became the most important player in the Slammers team just about down the stretch.
He came up big too and his nine points and two rebounds don’t tell the whole story of his value to the Slammers now that he’s back.
“Travis Durnin missed some around the basket too which he would usually make, but that’s him getting his touch back and we were really happy with how he came out of the game and the impact that he had,” he said.
“He played more minutes than we expected him to, but he got through fine and he impacted impressively in that last quarter.
“He’ll get his touch back over the next couple of weeks and he was a player who before he got injured would be in the conversation as Most Improved Player. He’ll impact during playoffs for sure.”
While his minutes in the playoffs might be limited, Travis Vogel was another bright spot to come out of last week’s clash with the Wolves.
He hadn’t quite followed the plan that Nix wanted on three quarter-time, but responded to a fair bake by his coach to come out inspired to start the fourth quarter.
He collected a big offensive board and scored, and then nailed a triple to spark the Slammers fight back.
Nix would never call out a player like that if he didn’t feel he would respond in the right way and that’s exactly what Vogel did.
“And with young Travis Vogel, it’s all a learning experience for him. He definitely got one of the better bakes all year, but he made the adjustment and really impacted,” Nix said.
“Like all coaches in this league, you care for your players and I want them to achieve what they want to.
“If I’m not holding them to a high standard then I’m not doing my job and I’m not doing what’s best for them. I’d like to think that I’m pretty fair and even across the board. He got one but a few other guys did as well.”
Coaching the Perry Lakes Hawks the past two years, Nix has done well getting his eighth ranked team to push the eventual champions to three games in the quarter finals.
But ultimately they couldn’t quite beat the Wolves in 2015 and Cougars last year to get back to the semi finals as they did with him at the helm in 2013.
Nix has proven he can coach and get the best out of his teams, but he would like to take the next step from competitive and impressive efforts against more fancied teams starting with this quarter-final battle with the Redbacks.
“I made a semi the first year I was coaching at Perry Lakes which was wonderful, but the last couple of years have been tough with us really pushing teams with both of them going on to win a championship,” he said.
“We were the only teams to beat both of them in the playoffs because they got through the next rounds undefeated too. I feel like I’m really prepared for this now, I’ve been there before and I’m one of the more experienced coaches in the league.
“I have a hunger and drive to get past this first round, but I understand what it’s going to take. There’s a real want but a desire to do the work required as well.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia