THE wins might not be coming just yet but it’s a long-term focus of setting up a program of sustained success starting with players through under-12s right through to them becoming seasoned SBL campaigners that’s the focus for East Perth Eagles coach Tanya Fisher.
That clearly isn’t going to be a quick process, but what Fisher is committed to upon being appointed coach of the Eagles in the Women’s SBL for 2018 and beyond is to develop the young players already in the program, set up ways of bringing more from within the district into it and making sure they see the potential to make basketball a career.
The Eagles might have now lost their opening 15 games of the 2018 season and lost 25 straight overall, but what Fisher has committed to building is something that will be sustainable in the long-term and that will have a much broader scope than just winning in the SBL.
Fisher takes seriously her mission to help develop young basketball players from the under-12 onwards to potentially go and have a college career in the United States and then return home and fulfil a quality SBL career.
But along the way, she wants to help them develop as people too and it’s much bigger than just what happens for them on the basketball court.
What has been the immediate focus has been for East Perth to focus on the young players this season.
Rather than hanging on to some experienced players or bringing in imports who might not necessarily be helping anything but getting their own numbers, Fisher has made the call to go young and more importantly has the backing of the club to do so.
That has seen obviously Eryn and Bree Fisher receive plenty of game time, but Cameron Flynn, Akim Lual, Rose Aryang, Stacia Muparutsa, Mya Dimanlig and Georgia Lowe are among a whole heap of East Perth youngsters receiving plenty of court time they otherwise wouldn’t.
That means that with Fiona Heart currently out with a broken arm and since Stacey Barr played her two games and before the arrival of Ladondra Johnson, the average age of the Eagles has been around 18.
It’s that development Fisher is taking pride in and rather than complaining about the lack of places for senior players to play outside the SBL, she wants to do something about it herself and is coming up with solutions.
“They are learning a lot more from playing than they would sitting on the sidelines,” Fisher said.
“Over here the biggest problem we’ve got is that we have no competition options for those over 18 except for D-League and often times that ends up being a consolation prize for SBL players rather than a true development competition.
“The bottom line is that if you’re in Victoria and firstly the underage comp goes through to under-20s, you have a lot more teams, higher competition and when you graduate from under-20s there are four different levels for you to get game experience. Over here we have nothing.
“If you’re not playing SBL, you have nothing and I’m tired of seeing our attrition rate of juniors coming through dropping off year in and year out. It disturbs me and I think there is a strong desire to want to get the wins in WA over what is best for the clubs in terms of development and promoting the juniors because it’s harder work.
“It’s much harder work and we are having about six sessions a week compared to two and it doesn’t actually pay any fruition until much further down the track. I’m not anticipating that we will start to make any progress until later in the season because of how far we are trying to develop from.”
Fisher herself had an outstanding playing career with eight seasons in the WNBL including winning a championship with the Perth Breakers while playing in the SBL for Perth, Willetton, Cockburn and Mandurah, and being MVP while with the Redbacks in 1995.
Having been there and done that herself, she wants now to help as many young women be able to make a career out of basketball. The first mission is to show as many in the community as possible that it can happen and the opportunities basketball can provide.
She is proud of a partnership she’s already helped establish with East Perth and Custom College Recruiting that has seen her daughter Eryn sign with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for the next four years.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg and what Fisher’s long-term goal is to help as many young women in the East Perth district pick up playing basketball, develop through the junior ranks and whether they go to college or not, end up making a career out of it right through their 20s and into their 30s.
“I’m hoping that we can teach them to make a career out of it. We are actually going into a relationship with Custom College Recruiting and the reason we’re doing that is because we want to start educating our under-12s and under-14s what it’s like to have a basketball career,” she said.
“Whether you go to college for that helping you become a professional player or for a life experience or even a free degree, the bottom line is basketball provides opportunities that other sports do not because of that college system. We have to dangle that carrot because we are looking for a higher level of professionalism.
“We are going into that relationship of facilitating that through our club knowing that it’s going to be four years from when we start that until some of our players start to come back into the fold.
“But in the meantime we’ll keep them as part of our club, we’ll follow and promote what they are doing, and give them a home to come back to.
“It’s a long-term investment for us and we are looking four years into the future and we want to build something constant and sustainable. That’s something we’ve been lacking previously.”
Ahead of the 2017 season, Fisher felt it was in the best interests of her daughters Bree and Eryn to move from Stirling to East Perth.
The development she’s seen in both has shown that decision was the right one, but it’s about much more than just her daughters. It’s every girl in the East Perth district that Fisher wants to give an opportunity to and show that basketball is something they can make a future out of.
But moving clubs is something from her own experience she sees as nothing but a positive too.
“Their development has sky rocketed and Eryn has accepted a four-year spot at UMBC and they are excited to have her. Part of that is because she’s got the exposure of getting out on the court and being able to play against older and more experienced players,” Fisher said.
“There is no way to duplicate guarding someone like an Ali Schwagmeyer other than putting them out there playing significant minutes. By moving clubs, opportunities open up as well and that’s something that back in my day when I was playing in WNBL, only two of could play for any club so we had to share ourselves around the league and I played for about seven different clubs.
“The only negative from that is I have lifelong friends at each club, that’s it. With any young girl, it’s just not necessary to be a one club and you look at it like a job and you go where it will be best for your personal and professional development.
“That’s what we did when we came to East Perth, we felt there was a better opportunity and structure in place that was more in tune to what the girls’ expectations were.
“When we get to a point here where we have a surplus of talent, I’d also encourage our girls to explore other opportunities. That is a view we should all be taking because it’s what’s best for the players.”
While Fisher is focusing on development, that doesn’t mean she takes it easy on the young players. The only way they learn is by working hard and learning from their mistakes, and being taught what they are doing right and wrong.
“Our girls work hard and it’s not easy being coached by us because we are at them all the time, we have to nag them all the time. They are literally being coached 100 per cent of the time but they take it on the chin and the girls understand what we are trying to achieve,” Fisher said.
“We always point out to all the girls that we are trying to hyper accelerate their development with what we’re doing and are trying to grow them in one or two years that would usually take a five or six-year period. They get that.”
It’s only natural for any coach to want to know that the club has faith in their approach when some losses do begin to mount, but Fisher can both see some progression in her young group and is thankful to the East Perth hierarchy to have backed her in to see her plans through.
“It’s incredible as a coach to have the support that I’ve got from East Perth at the moment. Fletch as our president had a conversation with me about what I thought we should do and I told him you have to just strip it right back and start from scratch,” she said.
“You have to take pain somewhere along the way for long-term gains and everybody at the club has jumped on board with that. We are trying to build a cohesive club with the men’s team too like it used to be where the whole club worked together and were part of the same community.
“The club has been great in supporting us and we are building a better culture which is going to provide the foundation for the future. When we made this decision, we had a very clear plan for what we were going to do and it didn’t just involve the on-court work.
“It involved working with every girl one-on-one not just on her skill set, but her mindset. They all have come on board understanding exactly where we are going and that we are not going to embrace losing as a culture, but this is a process and you have to take your licks along the way.
“As long as we are progressing and can make some gains, then we are on the right path. You have to focus on those gains while focusing on the development, and our feedback to the girls is not subjective.
“So we walk in with vision and sit down with them and go through it with them, and work out how to get better by using quantitative information. They understand this is a building process and with the measures and steps we’ve put in place, they can see that improvement.”
Fisher has committed to seeing her plans all the way through and she wants to see everything in place in terms of plenty of programs to help the young women form a pathway to create a basketball career from the East Perth juniors onwards all the way through to fruition.
“I’m committed to really working with East Perth to drive us to a better place both in our junior and senior programs. We also want to introduce a Sudanese weekend to get more Sudanese women down here playing because there is such a talent pool in this community that is untapped,” Fisher said.
“We’ve already got two Sudanese players on our team who have amazing potential and we need to compete harder with netball to get more of them playing basketball. We have to work with the community to bring them on board.
“We have a lot of projects that we need to get up and running in a limited time. I’m committed to getting everything up and going, and I can’t go anywhere until it’s done now. Developing coaching is much more what I’m into than ego management.
“Coaching experienced players can become a lot of that but I love the development side of coaching and that’s what our focus is here. I’m looking forward to when it all pays off but you have to go through the process to get there.”