THE East Perth Eagles won a couple of games on the weekend to be back in the Men’s SBL playoff hunt and had the Player of the Round with Jonathan Morse too, but for new coach Aaron Berryman he always saw this as a development season in his first year at the helm.
Berryman has been a stalwart at East Perth having previously had a stint coaching the women’s team and having remained assistant coach to the men’s program in recent years including during the 2014 championship triumph.
But with Joe-Alan Tupaea stepping down at the end of 2017 having spent a couple of years as playing-coach following the departure of championship-winning coach Adam Forde for the Perth Wildcats in the NBL, Berryman felt it was now or never to put his hand up.
He went on to be appointed head coach for the Eagles men in 2018 and was delighted to retain veterans Drew Williamson, Corey Easley and Tupaea, and to add import big Morse and more recently impressive guard Anthony Golden.
Berryman was delighted his three veterans wanted to play on and with the imports he now has at his disposal as they put themselves back in the playoff hunt with wins last weekend over the Kalamunda Eastern Suns and Stirling Senators to improve to 7-11 following a five-game losing streak.
“It’s a passion of theirs and I don’t look at the age at all, if they can get their fitness up and they want to play another year, it’s their call,” Berryman said.
“But I was excited that those three stayed around because they bring a wealth of experience to our team, especially to our juniors. And that’s a tough one.
“If I had a lot of Drews, Joes and Coreys, then fine I can sit back and let them play but I have to develop our young players. It’s a tough gig for them as well because they have to nurture the young guys on the court while producing what they need to as well.”
But for Berryman, he was always looking at this as a development year for the Eagles and he wanted to put more game time into the likes of Aiden Murphy, Andrej Donlagic, Jermaine Malie, Ngor Manyang, Brendan Dinardo, Kieran Berry, Hamish Warden and Ned Seery.
Berryman will only to keep giving them game time if they continue to earn it by training hard though.
“You have to give them enough minutes on the court and that’s something you have to weigh up as well,” he said.
“I always think that in that first half of the game you try to get as many minutes with everybody on the court as you can. If they hold it then they stay on and you reward them with that, it’s a development thing.
“But it doesn’t come from the game, they have to give it to me at training. I always feel that you should train harder than you would have to play in a game. If you do that, then the game will take care of itself and we are getting there in terms of that.”
While the Eagles had Mason Bragg running their point guard spot for much of the 2017 SBL season, Berryman was happy to back in youth in that role in 2018 from within the East Perth district.
That has seen Murphy in the starting role and putting up 7.6 points and 3.2 assists a game as he learns his trade as a just turned 20-year-old.
Malie, Dinardo and Berry have also spent time with the ball in their hands for East Perth while Williamson and Tupaea continue to be leaders running the offence at times as well.
For Berryman, he knows that it will take time before Murphy or any of his other young guards are ready to become elite point guards, but he also knows the only way for them to develop is to be thrown in the deep end.
“It’s a tough gig for anyone running the point guard and Mason gave us that bit of youth and athleticism. He’s very quick, he can shoot and he did everything he possibly could but to be at your best as a point guard takes a lot of years,” Berryman said.
“Joe has been around for a lot of years and it took him years to get to where he was, and still is, as a point guard. It’s not to do with fitness, it’s about having that knowledge and I keep telling Aiden that he has all the tools but he has a few more years of learning.
“It’s like a chip that’s buried in you and once you’ve got that, you can classify yourself as a true point guard but it takes time.
“I don’t think being a good shooter comes into it or being the best dribbler or rebounder, it’s about that wealth of knowledge because you steer that ship and you have to know what your teammates are good at and what you have to run. That’s a sign of a point guard being able to run that ship.”
While obviously Berryman wants to win as many games as possible this season and reaching the playoffs would be the bonus and is the obvious aim, he is keeping an eye on the bigger picture and feels like anything achieved in 2018 is a bonus while players and coaches develop together.
“We have some good scorers on our team and sometimes we can go out of our sets and find we take a risk on some things when we are trying to catch up in games, but it has to be a grind for us,” he said.
“When we get down in games, we have to grind it out and win or lose, we have to grind it. It can go worse the other way if you try and chase it quickly to get it back. It’s always about a grind for us and we have to discipline ourselves to that.
“To be quite honest it is going to be a long year for us and it’s a building year. We have a lot of new players coming in, young players coming through and a new coaching staff.
“Everybody is getting used to the different voice from the new coach and a different style of play, but more than anything I don’t put myself above my players. I am equal with them and we go through everything as a team.
“We make those decisions as a team and that’s the way I look at it as a coach, we are only eyes on the court and then we’ll make decisions as a court. As long as we are comfortable with it, that’s all that matters.”
Berryman was happy to work under Forde and to help out Tupaea as player-coach in recent years after his time coaching East Perth’s women, but he always did feel he wanted to be a head coach at some point in the Men’s SBL.
He figured now was as good a time as any and he feels he’ll only continue to grow into the role the longer he’s in it.
“There is a window open if you’ve been around good coaches all your career and the club might recognise that when looking at you but I think it’s opportunities that come from those doors that open,” he said.
“I asked myself that I’ve been doing it this way for years with a lot of good coaches around who have brought me through, but there was only one way for me to develop or to go up, and that was by putting my hand up to compete and go against other great coaches.
“That’s the only way I can develop further but it’s also different being the head coach and you are the one making the final decisions.
“Even though I know these guys and have been around them a long time, I now still have to make the right decisions for them, but it’s getting there. I put it down to being a development thing for me as well. Even though I’ve been an assistant for many years, it’s a tough gig being head coach.”
After being willing to put his hand up to coach the Eagles men in 2018, Berryman was delighted when given the news he had the job.
But since then it’s all been a firm focus on developing himself as a coach and his playing group and putting in place the pieces for sustained success.
“The first thought that came into my head was that I was very excited and I always wanted to be a head coach and I look back to John Gardiner,” Berryman said.
“I always looked up to him and wanted to work out what it was that made him click. He was very disciplined and he would have that discipline in his team.
“For me first year up it’s going to take a while before I get that discipline from my players and I have to get that respect from them. It will take a while this year but maybe by next year we might be where we want to be. But for the moment I just have to bite my tongue and let us develop together.”