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Clarke buckles in for rollercoaster ride at Eastern Suns
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Clarke buckles in for rollercoaster ride at Eastern Suns

THE Kalamunda Eastern Suns have already delivered two impressive performances this Men’s SBL season and with Louis Timms and Courtney Belger still to come in, coach Michael Clarke is buckling himself in for another rollercoaster ride in 2018.

Clarke is now in his third season in charge at Kalamunda and after two seasons of gradual improvement coming off a low base, there is every reason to suggest the Suns can improve further in 2018 and turn themselves into genuine playoff contenders.

So far the season has seen them win well at home against the South West Slammers and East Perth Eagles while in between losing to the Grand Finalists of last year, the Perth Redbacks and Joondalup Wolves.

In the two wins, it has been the new additions to the front court Kevin Davis and Logan Viskovich who have been dominant forces for the Eastern Suns.

That frontcourt will soon be strengthened further when Louis Timms is healthy while there is still import guard Courtney Belger to arrive once he is finished in Germany to help the backcourt that includes Jonathan Diaz, Tim Squire, Lachy Staig and Kerrod Horn.

The rollercoaster ride for Clarke and the Suns has already started with the 2-2 opening to 2018 ahead of the double-header in Round 4 starting away to the Lakeside Lightning on Friday night and then home to the Geraldton Buccaneers on Sunday.

“It’s all about momentum and improving for us, but I tend to be really demanding in that sense. But as long as the guys keep getting better, we have to be happy with that from the low base we were coming from,” Clarke said.

“The upside and potential is huge, but no doubt this season will be another rollercoaster ride. I’m holding on for dear life because I know what it can be like and we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, and certainly not taking anything for granted.”

Clarke is excited to have added the frontcourt of Davis, Viskovich and Timms this season for Kalamunda and he’s looking forward to seeing what having those strong inside presences can do to a team that has become accustomed to being largely a three-point shooting team.

But he’s also happy that they’ve done the hard work the last two years to get that up-tempo game style going, that now they can effectively add those inside presences.

“These are the pieces we’ve missed in the last two years and we knew that, but they wouldn’t have had the players around them either at that point,” he said.

“Now we have built that foundation when you bring some guys inside like we have, it makes a real difference. I’m excited to see what they are fully capable of together within our system and the opportunity they are going to get.

“It rounds us out and gives us what we’ve missed in the past. We have plenty of shooters and we will back in our guys to shoot, but we are concentrating this year on taking better shots.

“But I will never tell them not to shoot, they just have to be smarter about it and they seem to have been able to do that a bit better so far. Hopefully we can continue to put some points on the board this year.”

Clarke never doubted what Davis could deliver on the court for the Eastern Suns given he had proven himself as a beast inside the past two SBL seasons with the Joondalup Wolves and East Perth Eagles.

And he’s certainly proving himself quite the difference-maker at both ends of the floor following their first three rounds of the 2018 season. But it’s the way he has embraced the group and how his new teammates have flocked around him that has pleased Clarke even more.

“It’s a bit of a surprise just how much of an impact he’s had here at the club on and off the court,” Clarke said.

“I obviously knew he was one hell of an athlete and he can produce regular double-doubles, but it turns out he is a real team guy.

“He’s not selfish and all about himself, and he has fitted in so well here. He is the No. 1 guy I went after because I was hoping he was going to be a good fit and so far, so good.”

Viskovich was the last player signed for the season by Kalamunda and he made an immediate impact with 25 points and seven rebounds in the win over the Slammers.

After a couple of tough outings against the Redbacks and Wolves, he hit back last Thursday too with 22 points and three steals against the Eagles.

Clarke was delighted to add someone to his group that might have struggled to find a way into the rotation at the defending champion Redbacks.

“Logan only got a contract the week before our first game. We had signed 17 players initially and kept a few spots up our sleeves, and then after the Blitz on the back of his performance there, we signed him,” he said.

“That first game was the first time he had played in a Suns uniform officially and isn’t it amazing what a little opportunity and confidence can do for a person. I think he’s really capable of some big things this year and beyond.”

The fact that the Eastern Suns can still get significantly better once at full strength is another reason why Clarke is looking forward to what lies ahead in 2018.

Davis and Viskovich, with help from Ryan Blanchett, Jamieson Lewis, Billy Grey, Bryce Grey and Cooper Lowe are doing well as the Suns frontcourt with Timms soon to be right to play to make that even stronger.

“He can probably play a few minutes soon, we just have to get him through a full week of practice and then pick the right time to start easing him into it,” he said.

“But I knew potentially we wouldn’t have him early on so we won’t rush that. We will make sure he’s good to go and that he knows how to play, and can come in and have an immediate impact once he’s healthy.”

It was a great boost as well for the Eastern Suns when Belger decided he would return for a third consecutive season. While it might not be until the halfway mark, Clarke trusts he will have no trouble fitting right back in.

“His team is doing really well in Germany so to be honest if I was to get him before halfway through the season I’d be happy with that,” Belger said.

“He knows what we do and he’s a great guy so he will hit the ground running. If we can hold the fort until he gets here and again that was a risk we were prepared to take, we stand by people and they do the right thing by us. Hopefully when he gets here eventually that will allow us to go to whole other level again.”

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