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Culture change, backing in locals key for Flames
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Culture change, backing in locals key for Flames

BACKING in the Rockingham locals while topping it off with two strong imports and the production, leadership and cultural growth naturally from Greg Hire being on board is all what has Flames coach Brad Samuelson so looking forward to what the 2018 season holds for his team.

Samuelson took over as Rockingham coach in 2017 and it was a season of building with him at the helm. They didn’t quite get the results he was after and there were plenty of things he learned that he wanted to improve on heading into 2018.

A change in imports and an improvement in the overall culture at Rockingham was top of that list, but he also wanted to ensure his focus was on continuing to provide opportunities to as many local players with the Flames as possible.

That’s why Samuelson is so proud to have 15 local SBL players signed for the 2018 season with that topped off by imports Josh Ritchart and Curtis Washington, in the short-term Dexter Kernich-Drew and then triple Perth Wildcats championship-winning vice captain Greg Hire.

With Washington yet to play and Hire having made just the one appearance over the opening three games, the Flames are 2-2 having beaten the Goldfields Giants and Mandurah Magic while going down to the Stirling Senators and Geraldton Buccaneers.

Samuelson was feeling good heading into the new season and is confident of Rockingham producing winning and attractive basketball.

“I’m feeling really good actually. It was a learning curve last year and you obviously get away from the basketball during the off-season and have a good look at it, the pros and the cons and the goods and the bads,” Samuelson said.

“We are really looking forward to this year and I personally am looking forward to the season. I think we can deliver a fine brand of basketball and an exciting game to watch. What I do know is that we are going to be very competitive.”

Samuelson learned plenty in his first full season in charge last year but nothing will change his commitment to continuing to back in the local Rockingham players.

But he realised they need strong leadership around them and that’s where the presence of Ritchart, Washington and Hire will be crucial, while being led naturally by Ryan Godfrey.

“I believe that our young crew have gained immense experience over the last 12 months in terms of their fitness levels and the way we approach the games is far more professional. There definitely has been development through the experience gained,” he said.

“Most importantly for us is unity of our team and the club with an emphasis on what our ideas and values are for the forthcoming season.

“I think last year we all came together knowing each other extremely well but our values of why we were here and were trying to achieve wasn’t always correct on the court and especially wasn’t off the court. This year the biggest changes are mindset and our mindset is extremely good.”

Already Ritchart has shown impressive form for the Flames in the opening four games averaging 25.3 points and 5.5 rebounds while Washington will arrive and provide plenty more along with the presence of Hire and the Rockingham-based players.

“We believe Josh Ritchart will be a major highlight of the competition. Our belief in the guy is extremely high and we believe he will provide this competition with something worth watching,” Samuelson said.

“But the most important thing which is a great achievement for our club is that we’ve actually signed up 15 Rockingham-based junior basketballers.

“They’ve all been under my system since nine years of age or come through other systems with Andrew Cooper who is now my assistant. We are a very happy club at the moment and I think we’re the only club that can boast that we have 15 currently signed local SBL players.”

Looking back on 2017 and not that it was anything personal against imports Donovan Jack and Vinny Zollo, but they were fresh out of college and not ready to be leaders or to set the standard in terms of culture at the Flames that Samuelson was looking for.

That was a big lesson learned from his first season at the helm and something he is confident will be rectified in 2018.

“Our biggest problem last year was that we brought in two imports straight out of college basketball with no professional experience whatsoever. We had to reiterate and go over and over and over through the entirety of the season what we were trying to achieve on the court,” he said.

“That caused us a lot of interruption and once again with our young talent coming through, the balance just wasn’t right.

“This year we’ve looked at more experienced personnel who can offer us not only on the court but off the court values and integrity, and ideas and cultures of ways to win games of basketball and ultimately championships.”

While Samuelson is excited by the signing of imports Ritchart and Washington coming into 2018, it’s the arrival of Hire that could end up having the longest last impact.

Hire will without question be able to have a significant impact on the floor for the Flames as a player who in the SBL could play at the two, three and four spots comfortable and could defend all five positions on the floor without too much trouble.

He is a proven scorer and rebounder from his 150-plus game career at the Joondalup Wolves that included the 2011 championship where he was Grand Final MVP.

But his development as an athlete and all-round player during his 209-game career in the NBL at the Wildcats where he has played in championships in 2014, 2016 and 2017, while becoming vice-captain, means this stint in the NBL could see him become an even better contributor all over.

That’s an exciting prospect for Samuelson and the Flames, but for someone to be so well-respected as a leader and a role model like Hire is, means that he potentially could have even greater impact off the court and on the culture of the Rockingham team and club as a whole.

“The entire package with Greg Hire is just amazing for Rockingham. It’s not just about a player on the court, it’s about off court and what he could bring to the culture of our club,” Samuelson said.

“He is a very astute man and we are so over the moon with his presence down at Rockingham at this particular moment. We can’t wait for him to fully bring in those values to our club and basketball team.

“The input we’ve had from Greg so far has been absolutely fantastic. The whole playing group and club are over the moon and really excited about the possibilities of where this could take us, but not just for 2018.

“We are looking into the future and everything we are looking to implement this year is all about the future of the club and not just short-term success.”

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