JOONDALUP City Wolves coach Ben Ettridge is proud to be embarking on a third straight Men’s SBL Grand Final with his team and fifth in seven years but it’s the determination to make up for 12 months and the strive for excellence within the playing group that he gives the credit to.
The Wolfpack continue to be a Men’s SBL powerhouse over the past seven years having made a first Grand Final in 18 years in 2011, going on to win the championship that year and then also winning the 2015 title along with making the big dance in 2013 and 2016.
They are now back there again in 2017 to take on the Perth Redbacks Saturday night at Bendat Basketball Centre after beating both the Cockburn Cougars and Geraldton Buccaneers in three games in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Wolves this season but ultimately big man Ryan Wright has settled in nicely in the second half of the season after Richard Ross and Wade Guerin didn’t quite work out.
Ben Ironmonger has come back strongly from a knee reconstruction while Rob Huntington, Seb Salinas, Trian Iliadis, Reece Maxwell, Rhys Smyth, Jordan Wellsteed and Damian Matacz continue to provide an outstanding core group for the Wolves.
That saw them finish the regular season in second position before beating the Cougars in the quarter finals and the Buccs in the semis leading into Saturday night’s Grand Final against the Redbacks.
While Ettridge rightfully is proud of his Wolfpack for qualifying for a fifth Grand Final in the past seven years and third straight, it also brings back the strong memories of what happened 12 months ago in the decider against the Cougars.
Ettridge has not forgotten the 19 offensive rebounds Cockburn pulled in last year and he and his players will be doing everything they can to make sure the battle on the glass ends in their favour come Saturday night.
“All we’ve spoken about is that we gave up 19 offensive rebounds in the Grand Final, that’s mentioned at practice every week and maybe once a fortnight during games. We must win the rebound count and on Sunday we won it by 20 and that is always our focus,” Ettridge said.
“Our guys just compete and compete for rebounds and we won’t be rebounded again. If you win the rebound count you are going to win the game and that’s our goal.
“Our five guys will go and rebound the ball with anyone in this league and our guards really well, Ryan Wright is a monster and if they send two or three guys to box him out then someone else chips in. That’s our mentality, if we win the rebound count then we win the game.”
Five Grand Finals in seven years is an achievement not to be sneezed in such a strongly contested league like the SBL but Ettridge knows it’s the commitment and dedication of his playing group that drives those consistently outstanding performances.
“It’s the expectations that they set themselves when we sit down at the start of the season,” he said.
“They say they want to win the championship so for them everything we do whether it’s every ice bath, stretching session, running session up a hill and every time we tell them to go home and get eight hours of sleep and look after each other it’s all about doing everything to win a championship.
“Now they know this process of Grand Final week like the back of their hand and it’s about going out to achieve our goals, and putting ourselves in a position to represent this club on that first Saturday in September.”
The Wolves’ stretch over the past seven years stacks up well in SBL history as well with the South West Slammers (six Grand Finals between 1991-99), Geraldton Buccaneers (four between 1996-2001), Perry Lakes Hawks (five straight between 2001-05) and the Lakeside Lightning (six between 2006-13) the only teams to have any sort comparative wins.
During those stretches, the Slammers won four championships, the Buccs one, Hawks four and Lightning four with the Wolfpack now attempting to win a fourth title in the past seven years.
Ettridge played during the runs of some of those teams and even coached against some of the more recent ones so knows the history of the league well so the performance of his team over the past seven years isn’t lost on him nor his playing group.
“You look at the teams that commanded that respect throughout history like the Slammers, Perry Lakes Hawks and Lakeside, and those teams all had one thing in common and it was that stability, brotherhood and accountability that they hold each other to and the way they compete with that consistency,” he said.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on and we talk about those teams of the past and a lot of these guys might not know James Fitch or Peter Hanson, but we talk about them and a lot of those past greats in the room about the way they played.
“They were hardnosed and went out and did it and that includes even more recent guys like Ben Beran and Luke Payne. We have 12 guys who compete on every possession and that’s what we take pride in.”
The Wolfpack have now played their last game at Joondalup Basketball Stadium as well ahead of the move to the brand new basketball facility at Arena Joondalup.
There was no more fitting way than to win Games 2 and 3 on the weekend of the semi finals against the Buccs to qualify for the Grand Final and farewell the old building, which even had a trademark power failure in the warm up on Sunday.
“Every game is important but some games mean that bit more and this one meant we got to walk out of his building for the last time with a victory. Damian Matacz comes on in the third quarter and scores two quick buckets having just flown back from working in the US and vertigo all week,” Ettridge said.
“But he steps on the floor and does that so for him to finish in this building like that and for Doug Gates to be part of a win and Seb and guys like that who have put in the hours from juniors all the way through make it a nice way to walk out the door.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia