MARSHALL Nelson and Shawn Redhage might be at opposite ends of their playing careers but Perth Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic couldn’t be prouder of the way both stepped up in the quarter finals leading into the start of the semi finals against the Willetton Tigers.
The Redbacks finished the regular season in the Men’s SBL in fourth position setting up a tantalising quarter-final battle with the South West Slammers.
The series certainly didn’t disappoint with the Slammers claiming Game 1 at Belmont Oasis on the back of a stunning come from behind effort.
That left the Redbacks needing to win twice inside 18 hours last weekend to keep their season alive. They managed to get the job done at Eaton Recreation Centre on Saturday night to force the deciding Game 3 back on their home floor on Sunday.
Despite a flying start from the Slammers, the Redbacks steadied and largely but not solely through the efforts of Nelson and Redhage down the stretch, they managed to get the job done and advance to the semi finals.
There, the Redbacks take on the minor premier Willetton Tigers who had their own problems in the first round against the Perry Lakes Hawks. Game 1 will be this Saturday night at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
There is no doubt that captain Joel Wagner, Lee Roberts, Michael Vigor, Ben Smith and Zac Gattorna all played valuable roles in helping the Redbacks advance over the Slammers, but Lackovic was especially delighted with the performances of Nelson and Redhage.
Nelson returned to the Redbacks during the season from his time at college at Wayland Baptist University where he played under Ty Harrelson. Having already shown exciting signs before, Nelson returned an even greater prospect both in terms of his game and the physical shape he was in.
He had a big impact immediately on arriving back with the Redbacks and had a strong second half of the season, and then showed he’s not afraid of the stage of the playoffs or taking on a back court from the Slammers featuring Tre Nichols, Michael Lay and Teny Puot.
The 23-year-old had a monster last weekend in the Redbacks two wins over the Slammers to advance starting with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists on Saturday night. He backed up with 18 points, three boards, three steals and two assists then in Sunday’s Game 3 triumph.
Lackovic has always been high on the talents of Nelson since he first laid eyes on him and had no doubt he could have this sort of impact this season on return from college.
The faith his teammates, and especially from captain Joel Wagner, in him is enormous too and Lackovic has no doubt he has a bright future at a level beyond the SBL.
“I just love the kid. He competes hard, he has great energy, he’s maturing and developing and he is so hard to cover in isolations and on-balls. The way he can shoot the ball and stretch the defence out against zone or man made him a key ingredient for us in this series,” Lackovic said.
“I have a real high belief in him to the point where I’ve spoken to a number of NBL coaches about him. He didn’t train with us during the first week of the playoffs because he was over at Illawarra. Bevo has taken a serious look at him and I always have believed he has NBL talent and NBL physical attributes.
“There are some guys who are good SBL players and can get it done at this level but he also has the physical capabilities for the next level. He is explosive, he does things that show he’s just a baller who has got lots of reps up in the gym. He can work off the bounce and he’s good in a lot of scenarios. With experience you will see this guy blossom and get better and better.
“There was a period there in Game 2 with six and-a-half minutes to go where I told Joel to check in but Marshall decided to take the game over on his shoulders. To Joel’s credit and it says everything about his character, he looked at me after about a minute of sitting there ready to come in and said that we should leave Marshall out there.
“Joel didn’t check back in and we won the game which just says everything about Joel, but the belief we have in Marshall. I have had a big belief in Marshall since I recruited him in 2014 and he just needs more experience, which he’s getting, and I know how much he loves the game and I hope he gets all the opportunities he deserves. I’m super proud of the way he is competing out there.”
One person fully aware of life at the level above the SBL is Redhage. Playing his first season in the league following his amazing 393-game NBL career of which 380 were at the Perth Wildcats where he won an equal club record six MVP awards and four championships, Redhage has been outstanding.
Despite being 36 years of age with nothing left to prove following his professional career, Redhage has been simply remarkable this season for the Redbacks. He is averaging 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists with Perth to be one of top MVP candidates.
He was always going to be a target of the Slammers coming into the quarter finals and over the course of three games, his battles with Clive Weeden and Brian Voelkel were just about worth the price of admission alone.
But Redhage has been put under all that pressure and more for more than a decade in the NBL and always thrived in that spotlight and proven himself over and over as a big game and big moment player.
He again showed that through the series with the Slammers averaging 23 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.
Lackovic never doubted that Redhage’s competitive drive remained strong as he stepped back to play in the SBL for the first time after retiring from the NBL and as a result, nothing that has eventuated has surprised him.
“He is just the best competitor that I’ve seen. He is 36 years of age but he loves the game so much and loves competing so much that he thrives on the big moments. There are certain players in certain leagues that you know if they are on your team you will be better because of it, and he is one of them,” Lackovic said.
“He has taught our guys how to win and the biggest reason I wanted to bring in a person like Shawn, not a basketball player, was because he can teach things to them that I can’t. I respect him so much as a person and a competitor, and how he just loves to play out there.
“We understand that he will be a focus a lot of the time against defences, but he also understands how to use that to his advantage and we are really lucky to have him. We’re excited about what the next round will offer us.”
Lackovic couldn’t have been prouder of the way the Redbacks bounced back from losing Game 1 to the Slammers and then won both games last weekend which included the Saturday night trip to Bunbury leading into the semi-final battle with the Tigers.
“We’ve been challenged through the course of every quarter in Games 1, 2 and 3 in this series. We were able to make adjustments most times coming into the third quarter when we got momentum, but then there were a couple of things we didn’t do well and momentum shifted,” Lackovic said.
“But they were able to recalibrate, go back to the areas and we have some real good smarts out on the floor.
“They believe in our system and they know what our style of play is predicated on and that’s what made us better. We had to adapt on the fly at times and with the experience of some of the guys out there, and young guys like Zac Gattorna and Marshall Nelson, really came through for us.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia