FOR 20 years the Perth Redbacks has meant everything to Nik Lackovic but his desire to lead the club to a drought breaking championship in 2017 doesn’t stem from any desire for personal glory, he wants the club and a dedicated playing group to be rewarded for their efforts and sacrifices.
Lackovic initially joined the Redbacks as a player in 1997 having started his SBL playing career with the Stirling Senators and then the Cockburn Cougars. But when Norm Majors came calling and wanted him to join the Redbacks, he jumped at the chance and has never looked back.
Things went perfectly in that first season with the Redbacks winning the club’s third Men’s SBL championship. Lackovic finished his playing career at the club and has since thrown himself full-heartedly into coaching the club.
Getting back to a grand final and trying to win that elusive first championship since 1997 remains Lackovic’s main goal and the Redbacks are just one game from the championship game having beaten the Willetton Tigers in Game 1 of the semi finals last Saturday night at Willetton Basketball Stadium.
Lackovic would be as proud as anyone for his team if they are able to qualify for the grand final in one of two chances this weekend starting Friday night at Belmont Oasis against the Tigers, but not for any recognition it might bring upon himself.
Lackovic’s commitment and desire to bring success to the Redbacks starts with wanting to see captain Joel Wagner and fellow veterans Michael Vigor and Ben Smith along with a dedicated strong playing group beneath them achieve the ultimate success.
“It would mean everything to be there on grand final night. It would mean that us as coaches have put in enough hard work and prepared well enough, and that the team carried that out and deserved to be there,” Lackovic said.
“But my motivation is that we have a guy as our captain who has played 304 games at this club. He has been here since he was 12 years of age and I don’t need any more motivation to get up and get to training, and do everything right for someone like Joel and then someone like Mike and Ben Smith who has waited for this chance too.
“Then there some of our juniors have been at this club their whole lives too and have wanted this opportunity. We’re not going to be satisfied even making the grand final, this is a group now that has a thirst to make sure they can reward the hard work they have put in and that everyone at the club has put in. That’s where my motivation comes from.”
Lackovic will always look back on when Majors recruited him to the Redbacks as the best and most significant thing that happened to his basketball life.
Not only did he get to enjoy the championship victory that year, but Majors also set off the fire in the belly for Lackovic to think that coaching was in his future and he will never shy away from how much he owes that man.
“The club has been massively significant to my life. I joined in 1997 and there was a guy who has been an exceptional mentor for me who had a huge belief in me as a player to recruit me to this club, and that’s Norm Majors,” he said.
“We had a pretty successful year in 1997 and then I knew based on having such a great coach and mentor in him that at some stage he ignited my interest in wanting to coach. We had a phenomenal group of men that year with Jamie Baker, Matty Earp, Dewey Michaels, Michael Baker, Luke Mackay and others.
“But Norm then opened that can for me to find out that I loved coaching and watching players develop, achieve goals and get to higher levels. For me the club has been the most stable part of my life because as a player and coach I’ve been involved since 1997.”
Lackovic’s sole motivation coaching the Redbacks is to help the players at the club reach their goals. That includes if it’s to win an SBL championship at this point in their careers for the likes of Wagner, Vigor and Smith with support from Shawn Redhage and Lee Roberts.
But he also takes great pride in helping a host of other young players take the next step in their young careers by either heading to college in the United States, or to be taken into the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence, playing overseas or even getting an NBL opportunity.
“To see the success that some of our players are now having like Riley Chappell and Jayden Stone being in America, Marshall Nelson and Tyler Viskovich were both over there, and then there’s Kyle Bowen who has a big future,” Lackovic said.
“We have quality guys then like Michael Vigor who have come back and want to continue playing at this club after their season as a pro in the BBL comes to an end. This is a guy who when you talk about sacrifice, he was our MVP last year but he puts the team first and just plays as the glue guy and does everything for us and does everything right.
“Joel is the epitome of that and then Ben Smith is the same. They are just a hungry, desperate group of young men who have come together and understand what they are working hard towards. Shawn and Lee are then unbelievable warriors and competitors so that’s why I love coaching and bringing a fantastic group of men together.
“That’s something the players can be proud of, the club can be proud of and hopefully create something they can remember for 20 years to come like what happened for me on that special night in 1997.”
By no means does Lackovic or anyone at the Redbacks think the job in the semi finals is done against the Tigers having won Game 1 last Saturday night. But one thing he does know is that if they win through to the grand final, they won’t be satisfied by just making it.
“I don’t want to jump ahead and think that Willetton don’t remain a huge obstacle for us and there is no way we are guaranteed of anything coming into this weekend, but this is just a special group of young men,” he said.
“Their character is first class, they are all so coachable, they understand sacrifice and discipline, and there’s a real brotherhood about this group. That shows when they play out on the floor and they trust and believe in the system that we have in place.
“That’s a pretty good recipe and it makes you feel great to coach these guys and we just want to prepare as hard as we can for Friday because we are playing an exceptionally good team. Then if and when we reach that destination of the grand final, we won’t be satisfied until we get to the top of the mountain.”
Lackovic isn’t actively seeking the chance to coach at the next level and while it’s not something he would turn down if it ever presented, his focus remains on getting the absolute best for his current Redbacks players no matter what each individual’s ultimate goal is.
“I won’t ever coach anywhere else in the State Basketball League and as long as the club will have me, I’ll stay but after every year we sit down and reassess things. It’s really important to have balance in your life and I make sure our players have that with everything they are doing, and that may mean they play with us for two or three years and look at an overseas opportunity,” he said.
“For me, my No. 1 priority right now is to be able to reward all the hard work put in by people at this club. Hopefully we get to that final destination but we understand how hard it’s going to be on Friday. I think every coach if he’s being honest has aspirations to coach at a higher level.
“But my priority is just this group and this team along with my family and work commitments. So if an opportunity presented then I would like that chance, but that’s not my motivation as to why I coach. All I want to do is try and get what we’ve worked so hard for and sacrificed for all season and get that reward. Whatever then happens from there, happens.”
Making this push for a championship in 2017 even more special for Lackovic is that he’s now sharing it with wife Tess and the couple’s daughter Rome. But family has been something that has always been something Lackovic has been able to bank on having support from.
“My whole family has been a massive support to me and my wife is the most incredible human being I’ve ever met in my life. Her support is unbreakable and she loves the team so it would be great as well to hold my daughter up on stage if we’re able to get to that point of winning the trophy,” Lackovic said.
“But the reason I can do what I do right now is because of the support of my family. That includes my parents, my brothers, my wife’s family and they all love the club and what we are doing. We are a family first club and I’ve made that a focus with the playing group.
“When things aren’t going well we sit and talk about stuff and when things are going well we talk about that too. They are the family values we try to adhere to as a club and team.
“We’ve got some phenomenal family guys as well like our captain, Shawn and Ben Smith. They are all mature, great heads who set the example and standard for our young players.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia