JOONDALUP City Wolves coach Ben Ettridge couldn’t be prouder of the way his team bounced back on Saturday night to advance to the semi finals and he has no doubt the passion everyone involved the club has for it to succeed is a major factor in their continued success.
The Wolfpack are chasing a third successive Men’s SBL grand final appearance and what would be a fifth place in the big dance over the past seven years having won the championships in 2011 and 2015, and finished as runner-up in 2013 and 2016.
That sort of consistency can only be predicated upon a strong culture with full buy in from everyone from the playing group to the coaching staff and the support staff and volunteers, and Ettridge is proud to say that’s exactly what they have with the Wolves.
That’s why that even after a 21-point at Wally Hagan Stadium last Friday night in Game 2 of the quarter finals to the Cockburn Cougars and despite losing captain Seb Salinas for Game 3, they were able to deliver a commanding performance at Joondalup Basketball Stadium.
With Trian Iliadis delivering 34 points, Ben Ironmonger 21 and everyone playing their roles, the Wolves beat the Cougars to get a measure of revenge on last year’s grand final to advance to the semi finals that begins on Saturday night in Geraldton against the Buccaneers.
Ettridge always knew it was a significant challenge to bounce back from Friday night and win on Saturday even on their home floor. He couldn’t have been happier with how the Wolves responded.
“It was a phenomenal effort and that was Seb’s talk to the boys after Friday. We always knew he wouldn’t be here for Game 3 so we put the minutes into the guys and Rhys Smyth comes in to start and does a phenomenal job,” Ettridge said.
“Robbie Huntington has also had a horrendous couple of weeks after copping a hit in the face, and he’s been in and out of doctor’s surgeries since having X-rays, CT scans and everything. For him to step up like he has in all three games of that series is something I couldn’t be prouder of.
“Then a guy like Sean Easther comes out and doesn’t score a point, but is +7 in his efficiency with seven rebounds, taking a charge and getting a steal. Those are the things we talk about and that’s seeing it in action.”
Without Salinas the pressure was on the Wolves to step up to bounce back on Saturday night and that happened in spades starting with Iliadis to Ironmonger to Rhys Smyth and down.
“Pressure does funny things to people in big games and you either go and run in the corner and cry or hide, or you step up in Game 3 like Trian and Ben Ironmonger did,” he said.
“That was what we’ve wanted with those two guys leading from the front and playing off each other. Phil slotting in to be that true point guard and let those two run the wings certainly helped but they still had to step up and they did and that was the difference in the end.”
Iliadis’ 34-game performance to help lift the Wolves into the semi finals is just another notch on his belt confirming him as perhaps the best big-game player in the SBL right now.
Ettridge obviously had full faith on him being able to deliver again with the season on the line.
“Trian is a joy to coach and there was a guy in that Cockburn team who is the same called Gavin Field and they are what you would call a coaches’ dream. You roll the ball out and you know they are going to do it,” Ettridge said.
“It’s not anything I do, I just try to get out of his way because he’s a quality guy and Gav is the same I’m sure. You just let those guys go because they know how to play the game.
“You just put them in the right spots and they are going to do it. But Trian’s ability to step up on the big stage is second to none in this league.”
It’s not just the players that Ettridge has been impressed with either to overcome the challenges of 2017 to remain right in the championship mix. And he puts the culture of the club and the pride everyone involved has in representing the Wolves has a big impact.
“When you sit down and listen to people talk about what it means to play for this club, we take our responsibility seriously and we don’t just go and buy guys,” he said.
“You have to be the right fit for the club and it’s part of our DNA that when you come in you have to sacrifice for the team and do the right thing. Not everyone gets to wear a Wolves jersey and that’s essentially what it comes down to. The guys that do get to do it, it means a lot to them and that’s what they play for.
“That’s why when their backs are to the wall like it was in Game 3, that’s what shines through. I’m proud of everyone involved from Fraser Brown, Ben McFarlane, Doug Gates, Luke Brennan, Donna Ironmonger and Ryan Campbell for doing their job, and what they are achieving themselves. It’s a lot bigger than just a semi-final, you are proud of all your boys and everyone associated with the club.”
The Wolves’ consistently might make it look like everything goes along smoothly, but the 2017 season has certainly had its challenges.
They began the season with imports Richard Ross and Wade Guerin but finished with outstanding big man Ryan Wright while a host of other important players missed games along the way and Ironmonger was working back from a knee reconstruction.
On top of that the club has been gearing up to farewell Joondalup Basketball Stadium and making the move to HBF Arena in 2018 so there has been lots going on which makes Ettridge even more pleased with the way his team has handled it to be back in the semi finals.
It will be sad to walk out after that last game but we are moving into pretty nice digs up the road that will be our home soon.
“It’s a phenomenal achievement and it’s not just the games, but it’s everything going on at the moment. We are in this massive transition period and every time you turn around there’s a new picture of the stadium and all those sort of things,” Ettridge said.
“These guys are carrying a lot of pressure for basically amateur athletes but they represent 31 years of this club and they are very away of what means.
“We don’t own the jersey, we are just the custodians at the moment and that’s the way they go about it. They know they are playing for everyone who has ever walked through the door of this association.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia