THE Perth Redbacks underwent quite the transformation entering 2018 in the Women’s SBL and new coach Charles Nix was excited to add Kayla Standish, Mikayla Pirini and Makailah Dyer, but there has been much more than that behind their rapid improvement.
With Keith Horwood having made clear his plans to always stand down as coach at the end of the 2017 season, it allowed the Redbacks to take a fresh approach with the Women’s program coming into 2018.
That all began with the appointment of Nix as the head coach after he had done impressive jobs with Men’s teams at the Perry Lakes Hawks and South West Slammers.
But the travel from Perth down to Bunbury and at times beyond was just wearing too thin on Nix as he tried to juggle a new job and a young family, so the job with the Slammers was no longer going to work and it just worked out a perfect fit for him and the Redbacks to join together.
Immediately his focus turned to adding some quality new pieces for the Redbacks and the signings of Kayla Standish, Mikayla Pirini and Makailah Dyer looked capable of being true difference makers.
That has ended up being the case and the Redbacks have made a tremendous start to the season.
They lost the season-opener at home to the Lakeside Lightning and then had a winning run snapped on the road to the Willetton Tigers, but they have won their other seven matches to now be closing in on top position after handing Lakeside its first loss of 2018 on the road on Friday night.
It has been much more than the additions of Standish, Pirini and Dyer that has been behind the Redbacks’ improvement though.
Nix has found a way to get even more out of the likes of Jess Jakens, Bianca Donovan, Alix Hayward and Jess Hughes and the result is the Redbacks emerging as genuine championship threats in the Women’s SBL.
After leaving the Slammers as Mens’ coach, Nix wasn’t worried about coaching Women for the first time and he is actually enjoying it more than he even imagined he might.
“I just see them as athletes, so if they are men or women it doesn’t really matter. I come in with that attitude but I have found that the way I communicate has had to change,” Nix said.
“That’s basically because we are so much more reliant within our women’s program that everyone has to contribute to get the job done. There were times where you have a Tre Nichols or Brian Voelkel or Michael Lay or Clive Weeden where you just go and tell them to make a play.
“Now I do have girls on this team who can do that, but we have to be a lot more specific with our instructions. I feel I’m improving as a coach as a result because of this experience. I’m looking forward to hopefully being with this team for a while and growing a positive and hard-working culture.”
The talent that Standish, Pirini and Dyer bring to the Redbacks is obvious on top of their experience and leadership, but a focus for Nix above everything when looking at who to sign was ensuring they were the right fit culturally.
“I can’t help smile when I think about it because we feel like we are really fortunate that we were able to recruit fantastic people first and foremost. They all work really hard and set a standard, but they are genuinely nice and good people,” he said.
“The fact of the people they are the ability they have to play basketball makes us feel as though we couldn’t be any luckier to have signed them.
“Obviously a lot of work went into trying to get those three, but we felt like they were all pieces that would give us something different and we can lean on any of them at any particular time to help us adjust how we need to.”
All three players character-wise fit what Nix was looking for but just as important was that they would be with the group for enough of the pre-season where chemistry of the team had already well and try been developed by the time the season itself started.
“We wanted someone that was here given we had a new coach and a new system,” Nix said.
“We are trying to create something different at the Redbacks so we didn’t want to have someone coming in a week before the season started. It was the same with Makailah, we had her come out early because we needed her to gel with the group both on a personal and playing level.
“Because we are trying to change culture and create an environment that’s hard working and fun, but obviously holds each other to a high standard. It’s really important that they were here and Kayla was definitely a target because she could be.”
While the Redbacks have been on a terrific run winning seven of their last eight games following that win over the Lightning on Friday night having also beaten the Mandurah Magic on the road on Anzac Day, Nix has no doubt they have plenty of improvement still to come.
“We are still in our infancy. We’ve got a new coach, a whole heap of new players and a new system, new culture and for us we think we will only keep improving and getting better throughout the whole season,” Nix said.
“It’s just about making sure we are patient within that and keep looking to execute weekly to not only get results, but to improve because we know the way we are playing now still won’t get it done when it really matters.”
What Nix is liking the most about the Redbacks at the moment is that even though he feels they can get so much better, they are finding different ways to win from game to game.
“The most pleasing thing for us at the moment is that we’re winning differently every week. We are finding ways differently to get the result,” he said.
“I can’t say I’m completely happy with any of the games so far because we haven’t really put a full four quarters together in any of our contests so far. We are happy with the fact we are getting results but not totally happy with the way are executing a lot of the time in games.”
As impressive as Standish, Dyer and Pirini have been as additions for the Redbacks this season, it’s hard to ignore the natural improvement from players who have remained at the club.
That’s best illustrated by Jess Jakens who is averaging 13.1 points and 5.1 rebounds a game this season and Nix is happy with the opportunity he’s providing her and a host of others.
“I think it’s opportunity to be honest. I have complete faith and trust in my system and my players, and if they do the work they get the reward. I think they can see that and it’s about them understanding what they are good at and JJ is an elite scorer in this league,” he said.
“That’s what we need her to do, we need her to score and be aggressive. She has taken that on board which is great.
“Everyone has bought into the system and everyone has belief in each other and trust each other to execute which goes a long way to where we are now. That’s what is going to take us to the next level.”
Nix was instantly impressed with the direction the Redbacks were heading as a whole club when they first spoke to him after he decided to leave the Slammers after they were eliminated by the Redbacks Men in last year’s quarter finals.
He knew the club was something he wanted to throw himself fully into and that’s even more the case now.
“With the Redbacks, they were speaking with me as soon as I made the decision to leave the South West and they sold me on the fact that they want to make change, they want to create a positive culture and they are building underneath,” Nix said.
“Those are things I felt I’ve done in the past so I thought it was a best culture fit for me.
“We’ve now launched our new brand, the men’s program has been going really well for a number of years now and the club has put a lot of faith in me to come in. The freedom they’ve given me as a coach to do things my way has been good but I haven’t lost sight of the importance of that culture.”