WILLETTON Tigers captain Kyle Armour was proud of his team to win to celebrate Dan Casey’s 200th SBL game and he is now looking for his group to build some momentum over the next six weeks to take into another playoff campaign.
The Tigers’ form all season has been a rollercoaster ride in 2018 never better illustrated than last weekend when they lost to the Perry Lakes Hawks on Friday night by 22 points before bouncing back with a hard fought 102-90 victory at home to the Goldfields Giants.
That win over the Giants on their home floor not only steadied the Tigers at a 10-8 record in sixth position entering a semi-final rematch with the Perth Redbacks this Friday night at Belmont Oasis, it was a memorable occasion for more than that.
The win for the Tigers saw them commemorate the 200th SBL game of Dan Casey and 100th of Michael Collins in style.
Armour in particular was proud that his team won in honour of Casey who he can’t speak more highly of.
“He is that guy not only for our players six through 12 on the bench, but our whole team one through 12. He is massive for our team and he has been massive for me since I came to this club,” Armour said.
“I’m sure a number of the guys would say that in our team. He might not be playing as many minutes this year, but his contribution and value to the club can never be undermined because he brings all those intangible things.
“He is the only to have coffees with guys to pick them up, he’s the guy to encourage everyone the whole time and he is the best example of one of those guys who brings those intangibles to a team.”
The Tigers might not quite be vying for top spot in 2018 after claiming the minor premiership last year, but after back-to-back semi-final exits firstly to the Joondalup Wolves in 2016 and Perth Redbacks in 2017, Armour doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.
He already has experience of knowing a championship can be won from seventh position having done so at the East Perth Eagles of which he played a starring role in 2014.
If you look at his character, that of coach Stephen Black and others on the group, they tend to thrive with their backs to the wall and without the pressure of being a top seed entering the playoffs, might not necessarily be a bad thing according to Armour.
As long as they do make it.
“I tend to thrive with my back to the wall and it makes you walk that bit taller, and you walk with your chest puffed out and you fake it til you make it,” he said.
“You carry that chip on your shoulder and as a competitor, I try to find reasons to be an underdog and have a personal battle to get myself motivated and up and about.
“That year I played with East Perth we finished seventh and it’s a matter of clicking at the right time. We were probably still two or three weeks away from being the best we could possibly be so this year we won’t mind going in as a lower seed.
“If anything for me personally, I’ve felt like an underdog my whole career really and have been told I’m too small but I’ve relied on work ethic to get by. That’s probably the best possible position we’d want to be in come finals time this year.”
The backcourt exciting trio of Armour, Damien Scott and Jay Bowie will always continue to make sure the Tigers are tough to beat come the business end of the season.
This is now their third year together after uniting having played at East Perth, Cockburn and Goldfields respectively where Armour and Scott won championships, and Bowie was part of a stunning run at the Giants in 2015.
Armour hopes that sooner or later that trio will get to taste the ultimate in the SBL together at the Tigers, but he also knows there’s much more to their team than the three of them.
“We’ve got some pretty good synergy in the backcourt and you have to include Andrew Black in that group,” Armour said.
“He is having an amazing season and that alleviates the rest of us feeling the pressure, and the opposition can’t afford to leave him open because he’ll make them pay. But as far as Jay, Scotty and I we have a lot of synergy and that’s why Jay’s come back every year.
“I like to think he likes us as blokes too, but ultimately he likes to compete and wants to win a championship. That’s what we are all here to do and we take each week and game on its own merits.
“We just want to make the top eight, it doesn’t matter where we finish and we aren’t scared of playing anyone. We believe we have enough talent, it’s a matter of clicking at the right time offensively and defensively.”
One new arrival at Willetton this year is import big man Badou Diagne. He has big shoes to fill considering Ray Turner has departed and Nic Cody and Josh Johnson haven’t yet suited up, and there’s no guarantee they will.
That’s put a lot of pressure on his shoulders and he has had his moments, but if he can deliver more dominant performances like he showed on Saturday in the win over the Giants, Armour has no doubt he can be a difference-maker.
“Badou before coming here was coming off an injury, and he has been working hard to get to this point and I believe that the best is yet to come from Badou,” he said.
“He is slowly finding his stride and he’s going to be massive because he is a great guy, gets around the guys and is a high basketball IQ. Once that starts to click on a regular basis, he is going to be a massive threat and will help us a lot.”
Armour is certainly anything but concerned that the Tigers are still fighting for a playoff spot with six rounds and eight games of their season remaining.
He is looking forward to the challenge of qualifying for the playoffs to start with and then making something once there.
“The SBL is a really long season and it’s all about who is clicking towards the end of the year and who is healthy at the right time, and who has that synergy at the right time,” Armour said.
“On paper, I absolutely believe we are good enough and it’s just about having all those different moving parts coming together now and clicking at the right time. Right now, there’s no doubt we are chasing those top teams but ultimately that’s where we want to be and come finals time, it’s anyone’s game.
“We start in December putting in pre-season work and the foundations of what the year will look like, and now the next six weeks is all about what we can do to get better and make those small adjustments to learn move and feed off each other.
“Come August, that’s when it matters and when the players come out and that’s the best time to play. That’s the whole reason to play and we just have to make sure we get there.”