WINNING an SBL championship at the Willetton Tigers has been a lifetime goal for coach Stephen Black but if it was to happen it would mean more to him in 2017 because of the reward it would provide to a group of young men he’s been close to, including his brother.
Having gone close to his dream of playing in an SBL championship with his local Tigers as a player, Black now has chance to achieve that success as a coach in his second season at the helm since taking over early in 2016 from his dad Alan.
Black wasn’t exactly lacking for success in his playing career winning championships in the NBL with both the Perth Wildcats and Brisbane Bullets.
He then did a terrific job coaching the Tigers all the way to Game 3 of the semi finals last year against the Joondalup City Wolves, and now in his first full season at the helm he has guided Willetton to the minor premiership.
The arrival of Ray Turner to that group still including a starting core of Nic Cody, Jay Bowie, Damien Scott and Kyle Armour has stood tall for the Tigers with good help from Andrew Black, Lachie Evans, Dan Casey, Michael Collins, Hayden Noordhoek and Mitch Clarke.
The Tigers ended the regular season on top with a 20-6 record and will now take on the Perry Lakes Hawks in the quarter finals beginning with Game 1 on Saturday night at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
By no stretch of the imagination is Black looking past his first round opponents in the Hawks, but winning a championship for the Tigers does remain something he is strongly passionate to achieve.
Having not quite got there as a player, it would mean a lot to him to do so as a coach.
While there would be a degree of personal satisfaction, it would actually be even more special to him because it would mean his brother Andrew and his group of friends who he saw grow up get to be rewarded with that championship after their years of commitment to Willetton.
“It’s almost like it means more as a coach if that makes sense. As a player while you do focus on the team, you are focused on your role and you have more control over what happens on the floor,” Black said.
“Where as a coach you are sitting back and trying to make minor moves but you are worried about everything and you can’t just make things happen yourself on the floor. It would be something that would be extremely special and gratifying but I think more so for the guys who have gone through a journey.
“A lot of these players have grown up as my brothers’ best friends and I’ve seen them grow up and seeing them get their chances and take their licks as juniors, and then progress to being extremely good players and championship contenders as part of this team.
“That’s the real exciting thing for me knowing those guys personally as well as being their coach, and knowing what it would mean to them as Willetton juniors.”
While finishing the regular season on top of the ladder is only half the job done from where the Tigers hope to end up in 2017, it is a significant achievement and one that Black deserves to be proud of considering the quality teams Joondalup, Geraldton, Perth and South West who weren’t far away.
Black is proud of what his team has been able to accomplish and it hasn’t all been smooth sailing with his team often missing at least one key player on any given week, but their depth has shone through to end up with the 20-6 record.
“I’m really proud. I thought that we’ve had our fair share of guys missing games and we’ve had a lot of other guys really step up to make good contributions. Then when we needed our stars to be stars they have been,” he said.
“It’s been a really pleasing regular season and we’ve put ourselves in the position that we wanted to and now for us it’s about identifying what makes us good and how we have to shape a game to make it our kind of game. That’s the challenge for us but I think we’re up for it.”
Willetton should be back to full strength too heading into the quarter finals against the Hawks.
Cody continues to fight through a sore back, Armour has fought back from his troubles while Noordhoek returned last Friday against Lakeside and Evans will be back on Saturday night too.
“We’ll have Evans back which is important and we have already got Noordhoek back and to have Kyle get a good run was really important as well,” he said.
“So from that perspective it is really pleasing to get those guys back and we should have a good week at training, and then have a full squad for the playoffs which is what you want at this time of year.
“What you want is the seeding you need and all your guys healthy, and we’ve got that and I think we’ve had a good month leading into the end of the season even with guys out. I think we are pretty well placed.”
Finishing as the top seed might add a degree of pressure to some teams who claim the minor pressure, but Black is taking the positive approach and rightfully so that the Tigers deserves that position and the home court advantage it now provides.
Black hopes that his players are ready for the challenges that lie ahead having put in the hard work to get there.
“I don’t see it necessarily as pressure, but I certainly think that after last year we came as a three seed and played the sixth seed (Stirling) with home court advantage that there is some pressure on you,” Black said.
“The difference for any of those teams that get home court doesn’t really matter because everyone you’re playing can play.
“But you do go into that series knowing you’ve earnt the right to be there and you should get the job done, but at this point in your playing career and throughout this season, if that challenge doesn’t excite you then you have to question how you got here in the first place.
“I think our guys really look at that as a challenge that gets them going and I’m very confident that they are going to bring the intensity but also confidence that comes from the results we’ve had.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia