THE Men’s SBL leading Joondalup Wolves are not afraid to look to outside forces for motivation in 2018 as they look to make their new HBF Arena home a fortress and celebrate the milestones of two outstanding veterans this Saturday night.
The Wolfpack have been the trendsetters in the Men’s SBL in recent years playing in the past three Grand Finals, and five in the last seven years. That has led to them winning championships in 2011 and 2015 along the way and be a remarkably consistent force in the competition.
But after losing the past two Grand Finals to the Cockburn Cougars and Perth Redbacks after beating the South West Slammers to win the 2015 championship, it was an off-season of change for the Wolves.
They bid farewell to the old Joondalup Basketball Stadium after beating the Geraldton Buccaneers in Game 3 of the semi finals last year and have now moved into the lavish new home at HBF Arena.
The result has been that the Wolfpack are yet to lose at the new venue heading into this Saturday night’s contest against the Lakeside Lightning as they attempt to improve on a 9-1 record and remain on top of the Men’s SBL standings.
The night takes on greater significance for the Wolves too with the milestones to be celebrated of star veterans Seb Salinas and Damian Matacz.
Captain Salinas will be celebrating his 400th game in the SBL with his career starting back in 2003 and has seen him part of the two championships at the Wolves, be Wolfpack MVP on three occasions, be named to the SBL All-Star Five in 2014 and the league’s Most Improved Player in 2011.
On top of that, veteran big man Matacz will be notching 350 appearances in the SBL when he hits the floor. His career has included a league MVP award in 2012 and six club MVP awards along with being a key player in the championships of 2011 and 2015.
That sets the stage for a tremendous night of celebration for the Wolves on Saturday as they welcome Daniel Alexander and his Lakeside Lightning.
But looking at the bigger picture, the pain for Wolves coach Ben Ettridge of losing last year’s Grand Final was quickly forgotten with how focused and dedicated his players were to get stuck into pre-season training and become accustomed to their new home.
“The work that has gone into the new stadium is amazing. We had our end of season dinner there a month after the Grand Final and did the opening, and we don’t normally start pre-season until mid-November and that was October 14 and every game guy wanted to start now,” Ettridge said.
“They were in and we started two days later. Our pre-season has gone from October this year until the season started in March so that was six months and that’s pretty huge for us. The biggest motivating factor was to get into the stadium and really make it our home.
“We wanted to make sure that the extra few minutes’ drive up the freeway didn’t make us lose the mystique of the old JBS with the short corners, low roof and all that sort of stuff.
“We wanted to bring all that with us and that’s kind of what we’ve got to be undefeated still at home. That fortress mentality we have coming in is still there so that’s probably been the biggest thing.”
That doesn’t mean that the pain of losing consecutive Grand Finals isn’t still there for Ettridge and his playing group who have lived through it.
However, the Wolves and Ettridge are proud of the club and program they have developed, and are more than ever in 2018 taking notice of any disrespect they feel they get shown and are not afraid to use that for added motivation.
“That initial disappointment lasted probably until the Tuesday after the Grand Final and we farewelled Ryan (Wright) for the huge contribution that he made,” Ettridge said.
“We forget that at one stage last year we were playing with no imports and were still the top team in the league, and still hadn’t had a Player of the Week, got the All-Star snubs and all those type of things that our guys pick up on.
“We don’t need motivation from outside sources, but we do notice when people don’t tip us or don’t rate us. In the past those type of things we’ve let slip by the wayside and said we aren’t going to focus on that siege mentality that a few teams use as motivation.
“But we do have a pinup board in our new changeroom that is about 10×10 and whatever we can find during the week as another example of people saying Seb or Trian are too old, Brian is too small, Jalen can’t play defence or Damian Matacz is back after he’s retired for a fifth time.
“All those things that people think we don’t see, that’s what we have. It’s just a little snippet that goes up and the boys glance at it when they walk in. We are sending a message that people can say what you want, but you all know in the back of your mind that we are going to be where we are and you are going to have to go through Joondalup Drive to get to the championship.
“Whether we win it or not, I’ll take the program of my club and our integrity and honesty any day of the week because that’s what I’m immensely proud of. I take great pride in the people in our club and the way we go about our business.
“At the end of the day, you have to lie straight in your bed and be happy with what you’re doing, and know there are no question marks over anything we do. That’s our motivation.”
The Wolves have made a tremendously impressive start to the 2018 Men’s SBL season with a 9-1 record but it’s not just imports Brian Sullivan and Jalen Billups, and veterans Salinas, Matacz, Trian Iliadis, Reece Maxwell, Rob Huntington and company doing the damage.
Young big man Ben Gaspar has had some shining moments and then the likes of Jordan Wellsteed, Sam Curtis, Joel Offereins and Lachlan Strelein have had good showings too.
Ettridge and the Wolves are proud of the work put into their young players.
“That’s a credit to Doug Gates and Ben McFarlane in Division 1 that coach them and spend a lot of team with him, and also Brett Oats who is our individual skill development coach,” he said.
“He did a mountain of work in pre-season with all those kids just on the stuff that gets left behind because everyone is trying to run Golden State Warriors offences. You forget that we still have to teach them to play basketball.
“That’s what we spend a lot of time doing with those kids over summer and preparing their bodies. Ben has the body as a 24 or 25-year-old and he’s only 18 so that other stuff is what we do to prepare young guys like him to be able to play.”
The Wolves have ended up going with a different import approach in 2018 adding Brian Sullivan as a point guard along with big man Jalen Billups.
The presence of Sullivan gives the Wolves a remarkable backcourt alongside the likes of Iliadis, Salinas, Rhys Smyth and Maxwell.
Ettridge couldn’t be happier with what he has provided so far and with how Iliadis has accepted a role off the bench.
“Brian first and foremost is just a great guy. He has got our younger group of guys in toe and he’s just a quality person, as is Jalen,” Ettridge said.
“Jalen is a bigger personality but Brian’s work ethic and knowledge of the game allows us to tell him something and he’ll take it back to the group of guys and explain it to them, and then that’s what happens. The way he sees the game and goes about the business has been great to see.
“In that early part of the season he wasn’t scoring a lot and he still hasn’t had an explosion, but the way he pushes the tempo and the pace is perfect for us. We normally say a point guard gets two looks in the first eight seconds, but he gets five or six with the way he plays.
“That continually puts the opposition under pressure. Then for Trian to accept coming off the bench has been massive for us.
“For him to actually sit down with us and say this is the role he wants to play because it will make the team better, that is great for us that he’s accepted that like Damo did a few years ago and Maxy. Those are the decisions that the group makes which means coaching them is so easy.”