DESPITE still missing Jennie Rintala and being a little shorthanded, the Kalamunda Eastern Suns won impressively to open the Women’s SBL season with coach Tom Knowles looking forward to continuing to reward his young players who put the work in to earn court time.
The Eastern Suns lost some talent, experience and size over the summer with the departures of Tahlia Fejo, Melissa Moyle, Devanny King and Rachel Brooks, which Knowles still feels they could have some more help in replacing, but he couldn’t be happier with the attitude of his group.
The Suns started their 2018 season impressively beating the South West Slammers 93-84 at Ray Owen Sports Centre last Sunday despite still missing Rintala as their interior presence.
Alex Ciabattoni, coming off her WNBL season with the Perth Lynx, was impressive for the Eastern Suns with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists but it was the number of players who stepped up that most pleased Knowles.
The second-year coach was delighted to see Jorjah Smith (21 points, five rebounds), Jewel Williams (21 points), Rebecca Motroni (13 points, seven boards, three assists), Alecia Knowles (seven points, eight rebounds) and Hannah King (five points, 11 boards, six assists) all impress.
It’s as much about their attitude to adapt and adjust during the game that is a constant work in progress too.
“They are a great bunch of girls and they actually are prepared to dig in and fight. That’s what I really admire about these girls. There are no issues there with that at all, it’s just sometimes it takes a bit of prodding to get it out of them,” Knowles said.
“Every game I’m learning stuff and even in that first game we tried something completely new and just threw it out there, and it actually paid dividends for us.
“There’s a heap of lessons learned out of last year like when to get after and when to trap or not to trap, and a whole heap of scenarios where we actually can change our plan or tinker when it’s not working for us.
“That’s probably the big one I think that we are prepared to change early and recognising when you have to change.”
Ciabattoni might not have had long to prepare for her debut with the Eastern Suns, but if last Sunday with 20 points, eight boards and seven assists on 10/16 shooting from the field was her base performance, Knowles will be a happy coach.
“She was nervous before the game and was getting a bit frustrated because there was some stuff that wasn’t working,” he said.
“They obviously scouted her and weren’t going to let her shoot the ball from the perimeter, which she didn’t, but I thought she grabbed the game by the horns and dragged us back into it a couple of times there with some post ups and blocked shots. I was pretty pleased and she’ll get better from there I’m sure.”
While Rintala might still be in Germany for the opening couple of weeks of the SBL season, the fact that she committed to return to Kalamunda meant that Knowles knew he could build a team around having her presence inside at both ends of the floor.
“It was fantastic and she was always coming back, but she got caught up a bit in some of the changes to the visa laws. To try and get her residency this was a really good option to take up a short stint in Germany so we told her to go for it,” Knowles said.
“She’s a Suns girl and she loves playing here and with these girls. She was always coming back which is fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing her pretty soon.
“She was training with the Lynx all off-season so she is extremely fit and she has had a double-double each game she’s played in Germany other than one. She is definitely killing it over there so we are hoping that she is going to be at the next level in the SBL this year.”
One new arrival for the Suns who Knowles knows well is daughter Alecia. She has made the move from the Lakeside Lightning and he couldn’t be happier to not have to coach against her anymore.
“She has a great opportunity too. Lakeside obviously had a really solid group with a lot of players sitting on the bench waiting to play, so I’m really happy to have her here. I’m happy to have a little bit of extra stretch to the three-point line even though she was pretty nervous for the first game,” he said.
“A couple of times she didn’t look like she wanted the ball in her hands, but she knocked down a pretty critical shot for us as did a lot of the other girls too. It’s definitely nice to have her on my team.
“The first game we played against Lakeside last year she actually killed us, she shot a triple in someone’s face that pretty much put the nail in the coffin. I’m actually glad to see her on the perimeter getting ready to shoot the ball for our team and not anybody else this year.”
While happy with the players he does have at Kalamunda this season and with their attitude and approach, Knowles does feel they could still improve their depth.
But that could naturally happen before long with the emerging players coming through the development programs.
“We are definitely light on. We had a few girls leave and it has actually been a real challenge to get some new girls up here so we are probably still short a couple of girls in reality. But we will play with what we’ve got,” Knowles said.
“There are some young girls there who will get a great opportunity and I think they will seize it.
“As a club, we do have a lot of junior girls particularly in the 16-year-old age group who are coming through and actually looking very good. In the next 18 months to two years we’ll start to see some of those hit the floor and they are going to be really good Suns players.”
Speaking of those emerging players already receiving opportunities, Knowles couldn’t have been happier with the way that Motroni and Williams, especially, started their 2018 campaigns in the win over the Slammers on their home floor.
“Rebecca is one of those ones who throws 100 per cent at everything and I can always count on her to step on the floor. She’s not always going to be a great scorer but I know her effort level is going to be through the roof and defensively she is always going to try and get her assignment done,” Knowles said.
“Jewel Williams is a great junior and she is one of the ones who will receive great opportunity this year. We got her on the court a little bit last year and have been doing a heap of work with her since.
“She has been working really hard and at the end of the day that’s what it is about for these girls who want to play. They have to be prepared to work hard and she certainly does that, and it’s paying off for her. I’m really pleased to see her hit the court.”