DEFENDING Men’s SBL champions the Perth Redbacks sit third at 9-3 as they prepare to welcome back Lee Roberts and Michael Vigor for the first time in 2018, but coach Nik Lackovic continues to take great pride in the development of a new batch of young players.
The Redbacks have started their championship defence in the Men’s SBL season well to be 9-3 in third position despite having been without their starting title winning front court of Roberts and Vigor to date in 2018.
The big men pairing will play their first games of 2018 this Friday night for the Redbacks against the Rockingham Flames at Mike Barnett Sports Complex and Lackovic is excited to welcome them into a group that has already been playing well.
“I think people forget that we played last year with one import but this year we’ve had the opportunity to have Mo for the whole season who is just a tremendous human being and then Lee is my first choice every single time for however long I continue to coach,” Lackovic said.
“He knows our system, he understands how and why we play the game here at the Redbacks, and how we try to make sure we play hard but respectful of our opposition. He is our leader in so many areas on the court and then you have a guy like Mike who just had a great Commonwealth Games.
“I’m so happy and proud of where he’s got to as a basketball player. He is a guy who can do so many things for us out there on the floor along with Lee. That gives us different dynamics.
“We’re in a good spot but we’ve earned that right and we have built a program that these guys want to come back to and join the guys. They can’t wait to get back and be part of it again.”
While the Redbacks have lost three games against the Joondalup Wolves, East Perth Eagles and Willetton Tigers, Lackovic has liked a lot of what he’s seen from the start to the season especially considering Vigor and Roberts are yet to play.
The additions of Jackson Hussey and Mo Barrow have given the Redbacks a superb starting five teaming with Shawn Redhage, Joel Wagner and Ben Smith with them backed up by the likes of Zac Gattorna, Majier Garang, Dylan Vilardi, Ethan Vlahov and Jack Gartlan.
“I would rather be 12-0 sitting here right now but there have been a couple of games that we’ve learned things about quickly this season which have helped us to this point,” Lackovic said.
“Before the start of the season knowing we’ve got some new elements into the group and two really great, high character guys in Mo and Huss who are at times too unselfish. But they are still learning our system and our rules, and what we pride ourselves on trying to do.
“We also have a great bunch of core young guys who are continuing to evolve and develop. I’m satisfied with where we’re at and I know the upside is a lot bigger and I think everybody understands how important Michael and Lee are to us.
“They bring a completely different element and they are two glue guys for us who understand what the heart and soul of the team is about.
“They are selfless players who make everybody better and they present match up problems for oppositions in every area of the floor. They make our team better when they are on the floor. We feel great about those guys coming in.”
While the Redbacks celebrated winning a championship last season, there was a lot more to like about what they were doing as a program in terms of the development of young players.
That has now included Marshall Nelson getting a chance in the NBL at the Illawarra Hawks while Riley Chappell is at Whitman College, Jayden Stone is playing at Central Park Christian School in Alabama, and Kyle Bowen is one of the brightest young prospects in the country.
That has meant the Redbacks have brought on a new group of youngsters in 2018 and Lackovic is proud of the progression they are making.
“It’s a new energy and excitement. A number of guys from last year have gone on to bigger and better things, and that’s what I love about coaching,” he said.
“Marshall is in the NBL, Jayden is doing unbelievable things finishing off high school, Riley is at the No. 1 Division 3 school, KB is playing for the Australian team and has options coming out everywhere.
“You lose four or five core young guys who have progressed and it tells you that you development process is right. Then you have some new young guys who are so eager and keen to come to training.
“We have great leaders who show them how to lead and prepare and train, and do all the little things right. Then we have some great staff that continue to enhance what we are doing.
“The two new people we’ve brought on in Sean Connolly and Dr Tania Spiteri have been amazing for us as well.
“Those young guys are really loving coming to practice and I love that before I get there they are playing one-on-one, and they are lined up at both ends of the floor competing. Their energy and heart is fantastic and that makes it enjoyable to coach them.”
One of those exciting youngsters at the Redbacks is Ethan Vlahov. The 17-year-old is the son of Perth Wildcats and Australian basketball legend Andrew Vlahov and Lackovic has enjoyed seeing his growth and progression.
“I’ve been coaching him for a few years through the school system at Hale. He was my captain and a championship winning captain in the PSA there,” Lackovic said.
“He has that gene where he has natural leadership skills and has a tenacity about him in terms of determination to want to improve. He completely understands where he’s at, which a lot of young guys don’t, but his hunger to want to get better is tremendous.
“He’s a great kid, he comes from great pedigree and it’s a special kind of relationship and opportunity that I get to now coach Ethan. Me and AV spent some time playing together and whilst he was doing the playing, I was sitting on the bench but it’s why we love coaching for things like that.”