IT is fair to say the Cockburn Basketball Association means quite a bit to Gavin Field and his family which is why achieving the dream of life membership and 200 games with the Cougars is a feat he will savour this Friday night.
Field had little choice to grow up around the Cougars given his family’s long and close ties to the club.
He still remembers being there for the championship in 1992 with father Gary and he always dreamed of growing up playing for the Cougars on the hallowed floorboards of Wally Hagan Stadium.
That’s why once he finished college at West Georgia and before, during and after his stint with the Perth Wildcats as a development player that Field would never envision playing anywhere but the Cougars.
He got to taste the ultimate reward with the championship in 2012 and then things were on track for him to captain the Cougars to the title last year.
Cockburn won the minor premiership with Field having one of the best seasons of his career, but Game 1 of the quarter finals saw him suffer a nasty elbow injury that required elaborate surgery that he still isn’t 100 per cent over.
While Field wasn’t on the floor for the championship win, he was as big a reason in the win as anybody and was there to take in the moment with his teammates and the club.
He was able to return for the start of 2017 from the elbow injury but it has changed his shooting motion somewhat and he remains unable to fully stretch out his arm, but he has remained a key player in the Cougars getting back to the playoffs.
They do face a big task of having to beat the Joondalup City Wolves on Friday night at Wally Hagan Stadium to force a deciding quarter-final Game 3 at Joondalup Basketball Stadium on Saturday night, but Field and the Cougars have never shied away from such challenges.
While the win will be Field’s sole focus come Friday night, he couldn’t be more proud at the same time of reaching 200 games with the Cougars to earn the life membership and to get his photo up on the famed wall at Wally Hagan Stadium.
“First of all it would mean that I’ll be the third generation life member for this club and just a different version as a player, so that will be special,” Field said.
“I have known I have had 28 games from the start of the year so I have been counting down and hoping I didn’t get injured and could play every game, and then if we make finals I knew I’d make it.
“For me to get my name up on the wall with some of all those players will be special. The only one I haven’t played with is Al Erickson so it will be an honour to be up there so I can be there forever.
“This is my club and it’s my second home. My wife is American and one of the reasons we moved over here rather than staying there was because I wanted to come play with this club after college.”
Looking back on 12 months ago, even though Field wasn’t out on the court come grand final night, to have been such a big part in the Cougars getting there and then being with them to experience the triumph is something he still can’t believe actually happened.
But he couldn’t have been prouder of his teammates who stepped up further in his absence and for him to have been there for the 1992, 2012 and 2016 championships is something he will always treasure.
“I am still amazed we won. When you think I was playing 40 minutes a game and averaging about 20 points, and it’s not about it being me, but losing anyone who was playing that many minutes is something you usually can’t cover during the playoffs,” he said.
“More people had to play more minutes and young guys had to play a bit more, and it was just a testament to how well we came together as a team last year. We worked together and guys like Rhett and DT were just not going to take no for an answer.
“We’ve got the banner up there as reward. For myself I’m disappointed I missed out but for the club I’ve been here my whole life and I’m in the photo of 1992 championship on my dad’s knee so I have been here forever and I’m glad we got another title. Hopefully we can get another one this year.”
Going back to when he suffered the elbow injury late in that quarter-final Game 1 win against the Perry Lakes Hawks last year, Field didn’t know just how serious the damage was until he got it checked out early the next week.
While his return to 100 per cent with the arm remains on-going, he has done well to learn to play a little differently in 2017 and still have a significant impact on the floor.
“When I first did it, it didn’t really hurt and I thought it was just a bit of a stinger. Then it just kept spiralling into the surgery and the six-month recovery and the doctor said he has only ever seen it once what I did,” Field said.
“Unfortunately just with the way things go with rehab when it comes to joints and ligaments, people with knees can’t always run as far or jump as much after, and with my elbow it is what it is. I just have to learn to adjust and play to my strengths the best I can.”
The fact that Field hasn’t been able to fully straighten his arm has had its impact to shoot, rebound and even block or intercept. Basically anything involving an outstretched arm.
It did get to a point in pre-season where he envisioned himself playing left-handed during the actual season but he then got the all clear that the elbow was good to go and it’s been steady improvement with it since.
“Many of the mechanics of my shot are still the same, I just can’t extend. It’s more that I end up with a wrist controlled shot more than my arm and honestly up until two weeks before the season I was considering playing left-handed,” he said.
“I had been shooting left-handed for three months and I am a left-hander in life despite shooting with my right so it’s always been a bit strange. But I came back and started shooting well at the start of the season so I stayed and I’ll get used to it.
“There’s other things like rebounding where I can’t stretch as far and even when I try to dunk it I’ve found myself not being able to quite reach because of my arm. It’s that 10 or 20cm that changes what I can do even though in my mind I still imagine being able to.”
Field was an emerging star at the Cougars in the 2012 championship fresh off his time at college at the State University of West Georgia.
The triumph still meant a lot to him but last year as captain and a more experienced player with greater responsibility, and having been through a couple of tough years to build back up into a championship contender, might have made it mean that little bit more even if he didn’t suit up for the grand final itself.
“Any championship means different things but if we were able to win it this year, it would be special because I’m a leader on the court whereas in 2012 I was a starter, but just another player,” Field said.
“Last year I was a bit upset obviously but happy for the club and the team, but if I was out on the floor I could fully embrace it all.
“Last year when we beat Geraldton to get into the grand final I couldn’t stay in the room, I was too emotional. I was excited for the team but I was upset that I couldn’t be out there and part of it.”
Another motivating force to try and lead the Cougars all the way again in 2017 for Field is to get to share a championship with another 200-game player, Steven Van Lit.
Van Lit was the hard-luck injury story of 2012 with Field suffering that fate in 2016, so to share it together would mean everything to the pair.
“There’s also the story of Stevie Van Lit in 2012 who didn’t play in the grand final because he hurt his finger in a home accident,” he said.
“We’ve been teammates for a long time and groomsmen at each other’s wedding but we haven’t played in a championship together because we’ve both been injured. We want to get to another one so we can play in one together now.”
Field’s playing days with the Cougars is certainly nowhere near yet ending its final stages, but coaching is something that interests him beyond his career and whether that is remaining in Perth, or returning to the United States at some point, he’s not sure yet.
“It’s up in the air what our future holds after my playing career,” Field said.
“If I want to go into coaching and go into college coaching, we want to move back over there or if we have kids and they turn out very athletic we might decide America is the best place for them to develop.
“Right now I’m finishing off my teaching degree so we’ll be here for the next few years at least and we’ll see what happens. Hopefully I have a few more years of playing left in me too.”
Photo by Vikki Hile