THE benefits gained from the pain of 2017 combined with the short-term return of Darcee Garbin, signing of an exciting young centre and two imports he expects to be superstars all have Rockingham Flames coach Ryan Petrik as pumped for an SBL season as he can remember.
Petrik harks back to the 2011 season for the Flames where they went 2-20 to finish last but what that heralded over the next five years was Rockingham putting together a combined 89-21 regular season record.
That resulted in three grand final appearances and two championships over those five years, but every great run comes to an end and for the Flames the loss of superstars Sami Whitcomb and Garbin combined with a horror injury run meant that happened in 2017.
They ended up winning just six games but for Petrik he always knew positives would result with the increased game time for the likes of Ariana Wheki, Ariana Hetherington, Ella Kennedy, Amanda Pether, Rhianna Klisura, Ashlyn Lee and Jesni Cooper who are all back again.
But Petrik knew it would take more than just that. What he needed was to settle those players back into their more suited roles while topping up with some superstar talent.
That’s certainly the case with 24-year-old centre Maddison Allen on board to add size and strength inside while in the short-term Garbin will return on the back of the high of winning a WNBL championship with the Townsville Fire.
Before long, imports D’Lesha Lloyd and Taneisha Harrison will be here too.
Petrik is as excited as he can remember now for the start of the season with the Flames opening at home on Friday night to the Stirling Senators.
“I’m feeling pumped and to be honest I’m as excited going into a season as I was probably in 2014 when we had Darcee from day one, Sam from day one and Tucker from day one in her last year. That was probably the best we’ve ever felt but this year is right up there,” Petrik said.
“Obviously building it up for a year and-a-half and the club having the long-term approach to make sure we didn’t shortcut it has helped us to get into this position.
“There has been no deviation from the plan so 2018 has been a year and-a-half in the making and that’s where we are now. Maddi Allen has arrived, Darcee has arrived with two superstar Yanks on the way and Jacinta Bourne is healthy again so there’s a lot to be excited about.”
While Flames imports Lloyd and Harrison won’t arrive for the start of the SBL season, Petrik is making no secret of what he is expecting from the pair when they do show up.
“I’m expecting them to be superstars, deadset. We spent over a year on Harrison and we had been close with her before but it just never quite worked out and then last year we only had the one spot which we used on a big,” he said.
“But this year by getting Maddi Allen to play centre, it allowed us to pull the trigger on Harrison. Then the agents asked what the next piece we wanted was and I wanted a clone of Harrison.
“They said I wouldn’t find that but eventually we found Lloyd and after speaking to people up in Queensland who saw her last year, we are expecting her to be a superstar.
“We expect both of them to be and we would hope that our track record proves that we aren’t wrong too often. We hope to get two jet wings who can go for 50 a night between them. If that happens with Maddi Allen anchoring the defence, I think we’ll be OK.”
Garbin’s return for the start of the season will help keep the Flames afloat while waiting for the arrival of the two imports.
And her alongside Allen is going to be quite the handful for opposition clubs, but really it’s the passion she brings for Rockingham that Petrik was most excited about with her return for the first time since losing in the semi finals to the Willetton Tigers in 2016.
“I kept talking with Darcee two or three times a week and she always wants to come back. She bugs me more about things in the SBL more than the players in our actual women’s SBL team and she’s not even in the state,” Petrik said.
“She was always going to come home if there was an opportunity but obviously she wanted to stay in Queensland for uni which made sense. As I always said in those successful years, Whitcomb was clearly our best player but Garbin was the heart and soul of the team.
“Kaye Tucker was loved but our program has never had a more loved player than Darcee Garbin. Our girls love her to death and when I wanted to announce it to the team, she insisted on telling them and our girls just went berserk.
“The girls were counting down the days for her to come home they love playing with her that much. To get her back to the club, she is just so loyal and committed, and only lives a kilometre from the stadium. She bleeds Rockingham as we’ve always said from day one.”
Petrik is no stranger to proving he can go through some short-term pain while developing young players like he did in 2011 and setting up a successful era.
While there are never any guarantees, he is hopeful that the work put in will pay off similarly starting now too.
“We went through a similar thing in 2011 and then in 2012 we got Tucker back from injury, Emma Cannon flew in and we made a grand final. We’ve got experience in doing it and hopefully we can do it again,” Petrik said.
“Time will tell but in terms of planning for it, we started playing the kids last year a hell of a lot. We were going to struggle to win games anyway but that escalated the problem.
“But because of that, Ari Hetherington has been killing it and we have to start her, she’s been that good. Jesni Cooper is only 16 but she is looking unreal over the pre-season so some of those kids we played last season are starting to turn into something nice, which is pleasing.”
By having role players who have improved, Bourne back to full strength and then the additions the Flames have made, Petrik just can’t wait to see how things now begin to come together throughout 2018.
“We have a bunch of role players here and they are now getting put back into their correct roles. Obviously Jacinta Bourne is a hell of a creator and then Whitcomb did the rest of it with Garbin and the rest of them spotted up or rebounded and did whatever they had to do,” he said.
“Last year those role players had to step up to do everything and that wasn’t what they are as basketball players.
“Now they are going back into their roles so the uptick was enormous from last year and getting minutes into those kids. We had five years in-a-row where those kids barely got to play but hopefully 2017 will be a real boon for them come 2018.”
We might only be on the eve of the season-opener, but Petrik can’t fault the way his team’s preparation has gone.
“We feel as though we are tracking nicely for March considering the real stuff doesn’t start until August. So for March I’m really happy with where they’re at,” Petrik said.
“Jacinta Bourne is back on court, which is fantastic, Maddi Allen is ready to go, which is fantastic, and people are back in their right spots now. That’s looking a hell of a lot better than 2017 anyhow.”