PERTH Wildcats and NBL legend Shawn Redhage had nothing to prove when entering the SBL with the Perth Redbacks this season and while his competitive nature has seen him become a genuine MVP chance, he wants to help the club realise its first championship in 20 years.
Redhage retired from the NBL at the end of last season earlier this year having just won his fourth championship with the Wildcats in what was his 393rd match in the league and 380th game with the club.
Retiring a four-time championship winner with an equal club record six MVP awards and having also having represented Australia at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games all mean that he is an all-time great of basketball in this country.
But the 36-year-old felt surprisingly fresh after his last NBL season having played limited minutes with the Wildcats and that meant his desire was strong to still show what he could do on the court, but more importantly his body was feeling as good as it has in years.
The result has been outstanding for the Redbacks with Redhage averaging 26.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game while shooting 55.4 per cent from the field and 86.9 from the foul line.
He has helped the Redbacks to now be one win away from the grand final having finished the regular season in fourth position, beat the South West Slammers in three games in the quarter finals and then prevail in Game 1 of the semi finals against the Willetton Tigers last Saturday night.
He did miss seven games along the way which might end up being what costs him the MVP trophy but that’s far from a concern. Redhage has racked up more than enough accolades along his storied career that meant it was far from a motivating factor in deciding to play in the SBL.
Staying in Perth was always what the future held for Redhage and his wife of 14 years Gretchen and their children Hayley and Dylan, so when he knew he wanted to keep playing basketball the SBL was going to be where it would happen.
Then it soon became obvious that the Redbacks coached by Nik Lackovic and a couple of his old Wildcats teammates Joel Wagner and Michael Vigor would be the best fit.
And from early on, there was no hiding the fact that the Redbacks were aiming big in 2017.
“Initially I think I just felt like I wanted to keep playing a little bit more and then when I had made up my mind about that, I thought about where I’d like to do that. I had known Nik for a few years and then we just progressed down that route,” Redhage said.
“I’m pretty fortunate to play with some good guys at the Redbacks and I had played with Joel before and been teammates with Mike so that helped. Knowing some of those guys already has helped with our chemistry out on the court.
“Any time you start a season this is the goal that you have in mind so talking to Nik and the guys on the team before the season and knowing we had some big goals that would be difficult to achieve especially with us having guys coming in and out at different times of the year.
“There has been challenges along the way but the goal was to get this far from the get go and now to be one game from a grand final is pretty exciting for everyone at the club.”
It hasn’t been a totally smooth ride for the Redbacks to now be one game from the grand final heading into Game 2 of the semi finals against Willetton at Belmont Oasis on Friday night.
They started the season with Redhage and then Alex Loughton for four games but it wasn’t until mid-season that Vigor, Lee Roberts, Marshall Nelson and Tyler Viskovich were all on board.
Then soon after the full team was there, Redhage and his family took off on a much-needed holiday.
But the Redbacks hit a slide and were only just clinging to their place in the top eight when Redhage arrived on Friday morning ahead of a double-header weekend against the top two teams, Willetton and the Joondalup Wolves.
The Redbacks won both games and have won seven of eight games since his return with the only loss being Game 1 in the quarter finals against the Slammers.
“I probably didn’t time the trip flight-wise as well as I should have having flown in on the day of the game on a double-header weekend,” he said.
“But with all those things we went through with new guys coming in and trying to figure out our chemistry I think is helping us now coming down the stretch of the season.
“You never want to go through tough times but any team that had success that I’ve been part of has been able to figure out how to get around those challenges and thrive. I see that this team is no different.”
Redhage has been impressed with what he has found to be the standard in the SBL as well and he has actually enjoyed it more than he even imagined he would.
“You have a mixture of some great imports and some really good young talent coming through which has been fun to see and compete against. For me there has been a different challenge every night and I’ve been impressed by the level of play, the players and the coaches in the league,” Redhage said.
“It has been fun to get back to when you first fell in love with the game and playing in those type of environments. To be out there on the court and just playing again has been fun for me. I’ve probably enjoyed it more than I even thought I might.”
Redhage has also enjoyed the chance to get back to playing basketball in the way that he enjoys the most without the pressures and restrictions he was under particularly in his limited minutes role in his final season with the Wildcats.
He was expected to come on and provide some quick points and energy for the Wildcats last season, but now he has got back to being that workhorse on the floor who outworks and outhustles his opponent, and has the ball in his hands enough to make his moves and display the mid-range game that made him such an NBL great.
“With every team you’re on you have to evolve your game to how you can help the team the best and this is no different. To have a guy like Joel who I played with at the Wildcats and know his game as a point guard, I think we have a good connection out there on the court,” he said.
“Then some of the other guys like Mike, Lee and Ben we’ve developed a good connection out there as the year has gone on.
“It’s fun to see those things evolve and Nik has done a good job putting me in places on the court where I can use my strengths. I think we are starting to see some of those connections we’ve built up pay off now.”
Having won the four championships in the NBL with the ‘Cats, success just seems to follow Redhage and by no means would he say no to another title with the Redbacks.
But he would take more heart out of helping the club achieve its first triumph in 20 years and for those players and members of the club who have worked tirelessly for the chance to get the reward for their efforts.
“You look at the Redbacks and they’ve had some great teams that haven’t quite been able to win a championship for 20 years and you look at a guy like Joel, he would do anything to help his team win and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he brings on a day-to-day basis,” Redhage said.
“If I could help a club who hasn’t tasted that championship for 20 years achieve that it would be pretty special and that’s something that we are all striving for. I think sometimes when you haven’t tasted that for a long time it provides that extra incentive to try and help the team get to the top.”
One thing working in Redhage’s favour too if the Redbacks happen to book a spot in the Men’s SBL grand final next Saturday night would be him being on familiar territory. It’s hard to imagine anyone has spent more time on that court at Bendat Basketball Centre since it was built.
“I’ve spent hours and hours out there shooting after practice so you’d like to think that hopefully that would help you feel more comfortable in what’s almost like a home gym for you,” he said.
“We still have to win one more game before I can think about that but if we do, it does help to know that the grand final would be on a court I feel comfortable on.”
As for how he’s feeling knowing that the Wildcats are preparing for the upcoming NBL season without him and have put together its roster without the famous No. 42 on it, it’s not really something he thinks will hit him until he sees them playing at Perth Arena minus him.
“It hasn’t really sunk in too much yet because I’ve been busy with the SBL at the Redbacks but I’m guessing once I see the boys run out on the court without me that it might be a bit harder,” he said.
“I’m also excited to see how the NBL season is shaping up. You see the team that Melbourne has put together, Sydney has done a good job and obviously for the Wildcats bringing back Bryce was huge.
“From my point of view it’s going to be fun to watch as an outsider and see how it all plays out. Hopefully the Wildcats can continue the streak and win that third one for the first time.”
One thing that Redhage will always remain proud of, though, is that he retired from professional basketball knowing he still had something left in the tank, and more importantly that his body remained in not only good shape, but the best shape it had been in for years.
“I think that’s how anyone would envision finishing up being able to still run around out on the court where you can still play one-on-one with your kids even though you gave everything you could out there during your career,” Redhage said.
“But to know you haven’t destroyed any physical activity for the rest of your life is a nice feeling. I still enjoy working out every day and staying in shape, and I’m pretty fortunate other than the one serious injury I was pretty lucky in my career. It’s always been important to me to make sure I stay as healthy as I can knowing what you’re putting yourself through on a yearly basis.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia