MEGAN Thompson would welcome an approach from the Perth Lynx to come on board for the upcoming WNBL season given her credentials, but right now all her focus is on getting the best out of the Cockburn Cougars in the Women’s SBL.
Thompson came to Cockburn last year and was assistant coach to John Triscari on a team that finished the regular season in eighth position and took it up to the eventual champion Perry Lakes Hawks, but ultimately lost in two games in the quarter finals.
The return to Perth for Thompson, who had played with the Perth Lynx during her WNBL career, came on the back of quite the rollercoaster at the South East Queensland Stars where she had been assistant to Shane Heal, but then became head coach amongst the turmoil.
She took the SEQ Stars to the playoffs in that 2015/16 season before being eliminated by the Townsville Fire, but that fire still burns to be involved in the WNBL for Thompson two years on.
Initially she made the move west with the hope of helping out Andy Stewart, Ryan Petrik and the Perth Lynx in the WNBL.
While that hasn’t quite eventuated she is more than open to the possibility even for the upcoming 2018/19 season even though she knows that’s out of her hands now, and all her focus is on the Cougars and she is proud to have been appointed head coach at Cockburn in 2018.
“I came over here hoping to get into the Lynx side of things. I was off the back of a WNBL coaching season myself and the vision I had was that I wanted to get involved at the Lynx, but it doesn’t matter where I’m coaching – I just love to coach,” Thompson said.
“I was grateful to John to step in as his assistant coach last year and by the end of the year I was open with him about how I felt I needed to be a head coach at state league level.
“For me it was about seeing what opportunities present and despite how everything went down, I was really open with John and was happy to step in and have my vision taken on board by the club moving forward.
“I’m a big advocate for women’s basketball obviously. I’ve coached teenage boys and everything, but I’m a big believer that it’s always a good idea to have a woman in the mix whether it’s as an assistant or whatever.
“We know each other as women and that was the thing when Shane Heal brought me on board, he pretty much said I can handle the women’s side of things and how to communicate with them and we bounced off each other really well.
“I do have basketball expertise as well so that along with communicating with women, and understanding the women’s style of game. I’m an ex-professional player and I played at the elite level so having played it and coached it, it’s different.
“Having that female perspective makes a difference and when you look at teams who have taken out WNBL championships, they’ve had women in the mix on their coaching staff. Andy, I’m still here and I’m ready to go.”
Following the closure of the SEQ Stars after that dramatic 2015/16 WNBL season, Thompson was left wondering what the next step in her basketball journey would be.
She decided that moving to Perth would be the right thing to do in terms of her children before having anything basketball-related lined up, but she had enjoyed her time west as a player and was happy to give it a go again.
She instantly fell in love with Cockburn when she arrived to assist Triscari last season too and both in terms of the Cougars and living in WA mean she couldn’t be in a better place right now.
“I lived here years ago and it does feel like home to me. I’m ready to buy a house so I do love it here even though I love to travel and get itchy feet,” she said.
“I have travelled for my coaching over to Indonesia, America and different places, but Perth does feel like home. The kids are happy, the family over east are complaining about the flight but we get back to there as much as we can and it’s all good.
“It’s a family club and I have two young kids who got thrown into the mix real early, and they loved it. I always find myself at these clubs that seem to be rebuilding or need that something a little bit different.
“I did enjoy last year and the personnel, and the old stadium at Cockburn and thought it had a real positive feel about it. I just wanted to be part of something bigger. That’s what I like to do, come in and make a difference.”
Having worked with the Cougars last season, Thompson was keen to step up as a head coach in 2018 once Triscari and club management had decided to go their separate ways.
Having worked with the players previously certainly helped her know the things she wanted to implement and while injuries to Steph Jones and Haylee De Sousa haven’t helped matters as they currently sit ninth at 5-9, she’s happy with what she’s got at her disposal.
“I’m big on personnel and I’m also very big on culture so it was good to be able to know what I’ve got, what I’m going to do with it and what I was going to bring into it. For me it was just really exciting to get creative with this and move forward with my vision,” Thompson said.
“At the start of the season before we had a couple of injuries, I said to my coaching staff that we have got 10 players here where we literally have two interchangeable groups with our five starters and five coming off the bench.
“That’s how strong I saw our group and obviously losing Steph, our starting five, and our starting two guard Haylee hurt her knee, and that changed the dynamic.
“But we train hard and push each other, and we are quite systematic with what we do and we have our principles. For me I love to talk about getting the buy in from everybody and we’ll keep moving forward from there.”
While the Cougars do possess some quality experienced players including a backcourt featuring BJ Moyes and Taryn Priestly, import three Kisha Lee and veteran bigs Vanessa Michael and, when healthy, Steph Jones, what Thompson thrives on is developing young players.
She has increased the role of Isabelle Miotti even further this year while giving chances to the likes of Lauren Thompson, Ruby Benn, Nicole Pitcher, Kahlia Morgan and Mackenzie Taylor where possible.
“My coaching started out in high school so I’ve always loved working with juniors and from pre-season to now, the steps forward that these young players have taken is just phenomenal,” Thompson said.
“Ruby Benn has come a long way and that’s testament to the work she’s put in and the vision we’ve had for her.
“We’ve got Lauren Thompson, our big, and even Mackenzie has stepped on the court and the great thing is that you have the veteran players surrounding them and giving them that feedback, and support.
“They are in an environment where they can learn and know that it’s OK to make mistakes, that’s how you develop if you learn from them.”
Miotti is one of the real young shining lights in the Women’s SBL and has already spent time with the Lynx. The 20-year-old is someone that Thompson couldn’t more impressed with and has no doubt she can make it at the next level.
“I looked at Issy when I first watched her last year and thought, what an athlete. Then I wondered where you would have her play on the court and we thought about the three spot, but then thought the two and it’s great to get creative with her and get the best out of her athleticism,” she said.
“We want to get her to start thinking basketball and she’s actually quite intelligent so it’s about switching into that real basketball brain mode along with that athleticism. I think we’ve found the right position for her on the floor and she’s absolutely good enough to play in the WNBL.
“As long as she is coachable and keeps listening and working hard, then her work ethic is there and she can absolutely can keep continuing forward onwards and upwards.”
One addition the Cougars did make with Thompson taking over as coach in 2018 was signing Kisha Lee who had spent 2017 with the Stirling Senators having previously played in Australia also in the QBL.
Thompson had coached against her previously and knew of her talent, continued to be impressed with what she delivered at Stirling last year and upon being appointed head coach at Cockburn, the call to Lee was one of the very first ones that she made.
“She’s a quality player and it’s interesting, our story goes back a bit because she was playing in Queensland when I was coaching over there so I’ve seen her play for quite a few years, and she’s watched me coach as well,” she said.
“We felt like this was just mean to be and it was great to have her on board. I’d love to keep her as long as I can because she is just getting better and better as well.
“She is actually a really great club person as well and she’s always coming up with ideas about what we can do socially. She’s out coaching on behalf of the club so on and off the court, she is A-grade.”
The Cougars of 2017 did well to reach the playoffs and fight hard in the quarter finals against Perry Lakes and now Thompson’s team in 2018 is largely similar with the swapping of just Lee for the two imports, Lindsey Doucette and Kersten Mitchell, last year.
Thompson is confident their chemistry built makes them a better team in 2018 and that will begin to show now in the run into the playoffs.
“I feel like we’re a better team simply because we’ve spent more time together. We have a system in place and values in place, and I’m big on accountability,” Thompson said.
“I’m that person that says what we have to do, and if we’re doing it I’m changing my plan, you have to get to it. We are really gelling and working together, and it might be different for the girls getting used to me but they are getting there and I’m not going anywhere.”