GAVIN Field’s role has changed a little but his impact hasn’t diminished at the Cockburn Cougars following his serious elbow injury and he likes the way his team’s championship defence is shaping up with Lochlan Cummings emerging and Rhett Della just celebrating 200 games.
Field heartbreakingly missed the Cougars championship victory last season after hurting his elbow in the first game of the playoffs against the Perry Lakes Hawks.
That ended up requiring surgery and was so serious he was even considering playing left-handed in 2017 on return right up until a fortnight before the season.
He is still adjusting to life with an elbow that can’t straighten and his role in the team has changed a little under new coach Adam Nener, but his impact remains just as significant averaging 14.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game.
While the Cougars are the defending champions in 2017, it’s a vastly new look team starting from the team with Nener taking over as coach after Matt Parsons departed for the Perry Lakes Hawks.
Najee Lane, Marcus Goode, Julian Pesava and Sheldon McIntyre were among the players to depart following last year’s championship and now veteran guard Dan Thomas has been ruled out for the rest of the season through injury as well.
But Field is back from the team that won the grand final, Jalen Billups has proven a strong import big, Seva Chan is having his career-best season upon return and Cummings has also fitted in seamlessly and is coming off a 41-point outburst against the Geraldton Buccaneers.
The Cougars now sit in sixth position with a 15-10 record heading into Friday night’s final game of the regular season against the Kalamunda Eastern Suns at Wally Hagan Stadium.
It hasn’t been a season without its challenges, but Cockburn looks set to enter the playoffs in good form despite not having home-court advantage and Field has been impressed with the team’s growth throughout the season under a first-year coach.
“Nener is obviously a first-year coach so he’s learning as much as we are. He’s learning about how to coach as much as we are learning about his system. It’s just about making adjustments along the way,” Field said.
“We had the unfortunate injury to DT who’s out for the season and that has meant I’m back playing the two/three position, Rhett and Jaarod Holmes are playing more and with me in the three it gives us that extra bit of height and run. It’s about stuff like that and making adjustments, and throughout the season you just work out what works best for the team together.”
Replacing the production of Lane, Pesava and McIntyre was always going to be a big task for the Cougars this season, but through the return of Chan, Field taking over some of those roles, the emergence of Cummings and Steven Van Lit coming up big, they have been able to.
Field can’t help but especially be impressed with what Cummings has brought to the Cougars this season on return from college highlighted by his effort last Sunday against the Buccs where he nailed six threes and shot 15-of-20 from the field.
That came after he had 23 points in the win over East Perth last Friday night as well.
For Field, the best part is that any number of Cougars players can all go off on any given night.
“Lochie is always willing to listen and learn, and when we move the ball as a team he gets the ball and can find his gaps. That’s the key. Anytime we’ve had a game with ball and player movement the way we want it then he has gone off,” he said.
“As a team we need to realise that so we can maximise everyone’s potential whether it’s him going for 40, JB going for 40, me having a big game or anybody. We aren’t worried about who scores as long as we do score and execute the way we want.”
Field is also delighted that last year’s Grand Final MVP Rhett Della decided to play on again in 2017 even if it would have been a fairytale finish for him following the championship triumph.
But he now reached 200 games with the Cougars to earn life membership and a place on the famous wall at Wally Hagan Stadium just last Sunday against the Buccaneers.
Field, who himself sits on 197 games, knows what that means to Della and couldn’t be happier that he decided to return to the Cougars at the start of 2016.
“At the start of last year Rhett called me up to ask if I minded if he came back to Cockburn and it took me half a second to say that he better come,” he said.
“I have played against him obviously and then with him as well when he was first here in juniors and all that so I knew what he was like and how hard he worked.
“He has worked hard for everything he has and if he wanted to go after last year then everyone would have understood, but getting his photo on the wall was a big thing for him so he could make another mark at Cockburn.
“He is a character and a great character to have around in terms of a teammate, but on the court he just works, works and works which is all you can ask for.”
As for his own season, Field is reasonably happy with how he’s performing even though it is a bit of a different role and it has taken some time to get used to life with an elbow that doesn’t fully straighten, and might never again.
“It was a bit different obviously with my elbow. I got fully cleared about a week before the Blitz so I only had two weeks to get ready for the season. I still can’t fully straighten my arm and I might never be able to so for me it has been a big adjustment especially with my shooting,” Field said.
“I’m very streaky and am either very on or very off with it. My focus has more been on my all-round game and my assist numbers have gone through the roof this year and that’s also because of Nener’s system. He’s put me in the position that he feels has me as a distributor and facilitator.
“I love doing that and I’m confident my shooting will come if you give me a full pre-season of shooting and getting used to my elbow.
“It may straighten, you just never know but the strength and everything is there but it just can’t straighten. I also had a limited pre-season obviously so my body was a little underdone and some little niggles came up, but Nener has been really good for me all season.”
Photo by Mick Cronin