PETER Harper did an impressive development job with the South West Slammers in 2017 and now having retained Georgia Denehey, adding a second import and the expertise of Darren Austin to the bench means they have good reason to be aiming to make their mark still in 2018.
Harper took over for his first head coaching role in the SBL last season with the Slammers and with them coming off winning just two games in 2016 it was a big job ahead of him as he was finding his feet as the man in charge.
They went on to win six games for the season and be in playoff contention for a lot of the way, and ending up only missing out on seventh spot by two games.
While import Brittany Hodges played a key role, it was the development of youngsters like Georgia Denehey, Raya Thompson and Tayah Burrows in particular that was exciting along with the continued leadership from this season’s co-captains Courtney Bayliss and Kate Fielding that stood out.
That meant the Slammers were willing to give Harper some more resources to work with coming into 2018 and he signed two new imports in the form of Charlotte van Kleef and Tori Fisher.
They were also able to retain the services of Georgia Denehey who attracted plenty of offers from rival clubs and even considered a college career while still keeping leaders Fielding and Bayliss to show the way.
Then with an emerging group including Thompson, Burrows, Cian Parsons, Demi Liddle, Beige Harris, Ebony Bilcich and Sydney Lewis, there is plenty for Harper to like about what he has at his disposal in 2018.
Now in reality there are always hiccups and a thumb injury has meant he’s only had Burrows for five of 11 games to date while Fisher also missed the first three matches before arriving.
They are now entering their Friday night Round 12 clash against the Mandurah Magic on the road in eighth position with a 4-7 record and it’s their playoff position to lose over t he last 11 games of the regular season.
One big recruit for Harper was getting former Slammers championship winning coach Darren Austin on board to assist him and Nathan Grover in coaching the team.
Austin led the Slammers to their historic 2012 women’s championship before standing down midway through the 2015 season. But he was open to getting back involved when approached by Harper who couldn’t be more delighted to have his assistance on board.
“I learned an enormous amount last year and I spoke to Darren Austin about coming in to help the kids, and he’s been an enormous help for Nathan and myself. He obviously brings huge amounts of experience,” Harper said.
“It’s just the little things like he understands the tempo of the game and how to defend or screen or the wisdom he provides has really helped us out. It has certainly made my job feel easier this year in some ways because he’s prepared to step up and take trainings and things.
“It’s not a traditional head coach-assistant coach role. We are basically equals as coaches and if he wants to say something, he has full clearance to just say it so he doesn’t sit back. He has been invaluable to Nathan and myself.”
What would have just about broken Harper’s heart over the off-season would have been had 19-year-old emerging guard Georgia Denehey decided to play elsewhere having spent a season with the Perth Lynx in the WNBL.
But she decided to remain with the Slammers and so far is delivering 13.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists for the season while shooting 45.0 per cent from the field, 36.2 from long range and 74.2 from the free-throw line.
She might be playing more as a point guard than Harper would ideally like, but he couldn’t be happier to still have her at the Slammers.
“She got a lot of offers from Perth club because of being with the Lynx, but we are glad she wanted to keep coming to play with us and for myself because I’ve had a lot to do with her over the years. She is an important part of our group,” he said.
“I think she is making better decisions than she did last year and she has that natural speed that you can’t teach.
“I’m still not sure she’s an ideal point guard, she might be better in the two spot, but because of circumstances she’s playing the point a lot for us. She’ll keep growing in that spot and one day she might become a top-line point guard.”
While a lot of the focus with regards to the Slammers might go to the young players like Denehey or Burrows or imports van Kleef and Fisher, there’s no question the importance both in terms of leadership and production the presence of Courtney Bayliss and Kate Fielding has on the group.
Both continue to play key roles on the court, but it’s their leadership and experience in all areas that’s just as important and why Harper was happy to give them the co-captaincy in 2018.
“We made them co-captains this year and that was Courtney’s decision. Kate has announced this will probably be her last year and they are great leaders and players for us,” Harper said.
“Kate’s best role right now for us is probably to come off the bench so she can cover anywhere from one to five defensively, and her coming off the bench has really helped the dynamic of the team.”
For the first time in several seasons, the Slammers have signed two imports in the Women’s SBL in 2018. Van Kleef has been on board from the start of the season and is delivering good numbers at 17.0 points and 5.1 rebounds a game.
Fisher arrived for the fourth game of the season which coincided with their first win against the Joondalup Wolves at HBF Arena following losses to Kalamunda, Mandurah and Willetton to open 2018.
She has delivered 7.6 points and 7.5 rebounds a game since, and Harper has nothing but praise for the pair.
“Charlie adds a great scoring threat to our team and she’s a hard match up. She’s playing in the three spot and she’s 6’3 and can shoot the lights out when she’s on song,” he said.
“She has a beautiful, quick release and when she does miss, it’s not by much. Her and Tori are just two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet too and they have fitted into the group. The girls love them and they have included themselves in everything.”
Looking at the bigger picture in 2018, having gone from two wins the season before he took over to six wins in 2018, the Slammers now already have four on the board at the halfway mark having played 11 games and Harper knows reaching the playoffs should be their expectation.
“We want to obviously make that natural progression this year and we’ve got two imports now so we are hoping to be better,” Harper said.
“We are still struggling a little and have been without Tayah Burrows and even being without Beige Harris and Cian Parsons hurt our depth at times.
“But Tayah gives us that extra guard rotation and young Adele East has come in and she looks like she has a bright future in the game as well. She’s only 15 so the future is bright for us if we can keep them all together and out on the court.”