KYLE Armour grew up at Willetton dreaming of helping the Tigers to an SBL championship and with that quest three wins away in his third year back at his home club, it remains the sole focus now in his career.
In the earlier days in his career while trying to earn that NBL contract, Armour’s focus might have been on putting up big numbers as a point guard, shooting at high percentages and ensuring his assist to turnover ratio was an impressive one.
He certainly had a lot of success with that including being a star alongside Tom Jervis in the 2014 SBL championship triumph with the East Perth Eagles and he did earn a look in at NBL level both with the Perth Wildcats and Sydney Kings.
But the 28-year-old now has one goal in his career – to win a championship with the Willetton Tigers and that was the driving force behind returning to his home club three years ago alongside Damien Scott to originally play under Alan Black, and now under one of his childhood heroes Stephen.
Despite having spent a season with the Lakeside Lightning and then time at the East Perth Eagles both of which Armour hoped would further his NBL dreams that he did get to realise albeit briefly with the Wildcats and Kings, Willetton has always been home for him.
When he was weighing up his immediate future following the 2014 championship with East Perth, Armour decided the time was right to get back home to Willetton and the quest was to win the club’s first championship since 2010 and just the second overall for the men.
The Tigers made the playoffs in 2015 losing in the quarter finals to the South West Slammers and then last year despite Stephen replacing his father as coach following the Anzac Day massacre of the Kalamunda Eastern Suns, they emerged as a real contender.
They pushed the Joondalup Wolves all the way to Game 3 of the semi finals before falling heartbreakingly short of a first grand final appearance since that Cameron Tovey, Daniel Johnson-inspired championship of 2010.
Now the addition of Ray Turner to that group that includes Armour, Scott, Nic Cody, Jay Bowie, Andrew Black and company has taken the Tigers to the minor premiership and a quarter-final victory over the dangerous Perry Lakes hawks.
Even though they lost Game 1 of the semi finals at home last Saturday night to the Perth Redbacks, Willetton can advance to the grand final with two wins this weekend starting Friday at Belmont Oasis and then Saturday back at Willetton Basketball stadium.
For Armour, it always felt like he was returning home when he made the decision to comeback three years ago.
“I’ve been there forever and it’s just like playing in your backyard pretty much. I grew up there, my brother grew up there and my younger brother now plays there. I coach a bunch of kids’ individuals at Willetton so it just feels I’m part of the furniture,” Armour said.
“I had been at Willetton since I was five years old. I grew up in Parkwood and Willetton has always been my home club. I was pursuing that NBL dream and that’s why I moved to East Perth to play under Fordey a few years back to build on that Wildcats connection, but I always wanted to come back to Willetton when I got the chance.
“Scotty being one of my best mates coming as well meant that it felt like the right time and that’s pretty much what inspired the move. I knew if I was going back home to Willo I wanted a potent scorer alongside me who could take over at any point, and Scotty is that player.”
The hunger for that championship with the Tigers is Armour’s sole focus in his career now and after being so close last year, and with the team improving in 2017 he doesn’t want to let this opportunity slip despite the challenge of the Redbacks that is ahead of them.
The fact that the Tigers women have won eight championships to the men’s one is also some motivation to start squaring that ledger at some point.
“The women have almost been carrying the club for years so it would be nice to get another men’s flag up there to start balancing the banners up there. The women are doing really well and hopefully they can keep their season alive this weekend as well against Perry Lakes,” he said.
“It would just be good to come in and see one of the flags hanging up there knowing I was part of that championship team. That’s the whole reason I play and that’s why we are so excited coming down to the business end of the year that we are still alive.
“Not to build pressure or anything about Game 2, but I realise the importance of this weekend because the whole goal is to win that championship and winning these two games will give us that opportunity.”
As much as Armour’s desire is strong to win that championship, he knows how difficult of a challenge it is to beat the Redbacks twice this weekend to at least make the grand final of 2017 where they will take on either the Wolves or Geraldton Buccaneers.
“It all comes down to this Game 2 and trying to push it to Saturday night so we can get the Redbacks back to our home floor and just throw everything at them and see what happens,” Armour said.
“At the end of the day the best team is going to win and they are super talented across every position, and they have also been building like our Willetton team.
“They’ve had a couple of years where they’ve had the talent but for whatever reason haven’t been able to capitalise and we are in the same boat this year where we have all the talent, we just have to execute now down the stretch with the season on the line.”
While Armour initially decided to return largely with the desire to play under Alan Black as his coach given his remarkable history in the NBL with the Wildcats, Sydney Kings, Illawarra Hawks and Cairns Taipans.
But when life took him to Malaysia last year, it was a seamless transition to have Stephen take over.
Armour grew up admiring him as a Willetton product made good and becoming a dual NBL championship winner, but it was the 2002 grand final with the Tigers that sticks out as a memory for both men.
Armour was watching Black go to battle ultimately unsuccessfully against the Perry Lakes Hawks, but that remains a motivating factor for the coach to go one better and for Armour, he will never forget how much he loved watching Black run around for Willetton.
“I did grow up watching Steve and I was always a massive fan of his and his game. I remember watching him in the grand final that they lost to Perry Lakes 15 years ago now so he was always a player I always looked up to. I even still have his jersey at home,” he said.
“But Alan coaching was what first inspired my move to come back to WIllo and it’s pretty easy to make that decision when a Hall of Fame coach wants you to come back to your home club. That made it a no-brainer when Alan took over and wanted me to come play for him.”
Armour had tremendous success in his earlier career as an attacking, scoring-first point guard and that was what made him such a key part of the East Perth championship in 2014.
But over time while he’s no longer chasing desperately that professional contract, he has been happier to accept whatever role his needs from him and with the firepower on this Willetton team, being a facilitator, ball carrier and strong defender is what he can contribute most valuably.
That doesn’t mean he still can’t score when the chance presents and that he doesn’t still want to have a bigger role on that side of things, but while he’s helping the team win and what he’s doing is helping lead to that success he is happy with the transition his game has made.
“My game has evolved as a point guard and as a leader especially under Steve the last couple of years because my focus has moved away from trying to land a gig in the NBL where my focus was on my numbers and then winning,” Armour said.
“But now it’s all about being the point guard on the best team and helping us win games, and ultimately championships. For me I just want to win and I’m not worrying about my averages and what’s next in my career.
“This year especially we have a lot of offensively dominant guys on our team who are super talented, and it’s best for my team to make sure I can feed the beast in the middle which is Ray. Then Jay is another sort of beast and then I have to make sure Scotty is still getting his looks so then we can hone in on defence and play that way.
“My game has evolved over the years into that point guard who runs the team and makes sure guys are getting their looks, and that those looks are best for the team. That’s not to say I don’t still like shooting and scoring myself, but I just don’t do that as much as in the past. As a result I think I’ve grown as a point guard and leader.”
Armour understandably did put a big focus on his individual numbers earlier in his career and rightfully so because more than anything, that’s what he would be judged upon when clubs would be weighing up signing him or at least considering him.
But over time he has focused on wanting to play whatever role asked of his team to give them the best chance to win.
“At the back of my mind a few years ago when I went out there to play I had that driving force to motivate me that I wanted to average this, shoot this percentage and be this accurate from the free-throw line and try to have a three to one assist to turnover ratio,” he said.
“But this year more than ever, I don’t really care about making the hero play or touchdown pass. I want to just do what’s best for the team and that might be just playing defence, running the team and only taking five shots. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help us win.”
Armour was always earmarked as a star of the future coming through the ranks of Willetton, going on to the Australian Institute of Sport and then a college career at Augusta State University.
While his NBL dream hasn’t quite worked out despite stints with Perth and Sydney, he is at least proud that he got a look in and will always know that he gave his absolute all.
“I think it’s still something to be proud of that I played for two clubs and I will feel grateful for the opportunity that two coaches gave me to be part of a squad so at least I got that chance even if it didn’t quite turn out how I hoped,” Armour said.
“It’s awesome that I did get a chance and I’ll always reflect on that and talk about the people I met, and friendships I made by floating around the basketball circles I’ve been part of.
“You always want to play better than you did as a natural competitor and want to have got more opportunities than you did so there’s always some fuel in the belly because of that from my NBL experience. But I try to channel that drive into my career now and I have basketball to thank for that.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia