THE coaching journey of Charles Nix has continued its upward trajectory this year in the Women’s SBL with the Perth Redbacks but all his focus is on this Saturday’s clash at home to the Rockingham Flames where they can secure second position.
Nix has proved himself as one of the brightest emerging coaches in Western Australia in recent years with his time coaching in the Men’s SBL firstly at the Perry Lakes Hawks and then last year with the South West Slammers.
Especially the last three years, he did well to push the eventual champions to three games in the first round without having home-court advantage. But the travel to and from Bunbury was taking its toll so he had to make a change coming into 2018.
That’s where the position with the Redbacks in the Women’s SBL soon became appealing and now with three weeks and two games of the regular season remaining, Nix couldn’t be happier with the decision he made.
The Redbacks currently sit in second position on the table at 16-4 having won seven straight heading into a clash on Saturday at Belmont Oasis against the third placed Rockingham Flames.
The Redbacks will also be wearing special black uniforms for the occasion with tip-off set for 4pm and they will later be auctioned off in the name of charity.
So with the big occasion planned and plenty at stake in the game itself, Nix can’t wait for Saturday against the Flames.
“It’s not often during a regular season where your second last game has you really playing for something significant. In this league, top two is basically the same because the Grand Final is at Bendat so if you can get home-court throughout is really important,” Nix said.
“You look at most teams, they are a lot better at home than on the road so it’s important for us. And then having our uniforms up for auction and donating to a great cause is pretty exciting as well.
“The fact that it’s a 4pm instead of 6pm tip-off hopefully will bring more of the kids along too. It’s funny how it’s all come together for this one occasion and hopefully it will be a pretty exciting day.”
The Redbacks do look well placed to finish second no matter the result on Saturday but knowing that it can be secured with a win against the Flames has the potential for Nix to see his new group get the reward he feels they have deserved for the work they’ve put in up to this point.
They already are the only team to have beaten the Lakeside Lightning in 2018 and Nix would like to see them rewarded with a top two finish.
“It would just be a lot of reward for the work the team has put in. We’ve been going since November and very rarely do I start that early, but if I’m honest we were a fair way back and we were trying to build culture and a style of play, and finding the people who wanted to come on the journey,” he said.
“The girls have just done an amazing job of embracing everything we are trying to do and working super hard. To finish second would be a reward while we understand it’s not job finished and there’s still a long way to go. But it would be a nice reward before heading into what is the most important part of the year.”
Nix and his Redbacks players are also not afraid to discuss the fact that the opportunity to be a genuine championship contender in 2018 is something they should fully embrace, rather than shy away from.
Having said that, they won’t be taking anything for granted and then with a bye and a game with the East Perth Eagles to come after Saturday as the lead-in to the playoffs, Nix will make sure they are not at all rusty heading into that first round.
“We are really open in our discussion about how these opportunities don’t come about every year,” Nix said.
“Some people go their whole careers without having a team this talented with the chemistry we’ve built throughout the year. We’re not shying away from the fact that we’re in a really fortunate position and everyone definitely wants to make the most of what’s in front of us.
“This time of year I like to have a heavier load and we are pushing them pretty hard, and trying to get some run in the legs. Probably over that last week heading into the playoffs we will ease off a little bit, but having a bye week is perfect for us so we can manage that.
“I plan for it to be fairly heavy that week but we could adjust depending on where our bodies are at. We are mature enough to be able to alter and change things, and still be quite effective.”
Over the past three years especially, Nix has had his teams firing and playing as well as anyone in the Men’s SBL come playoff time despite finishing in the lower half of the top eight.
That saw his Perry Lakes teams of 2015 and 2016 push the eventual champions Joondalup and Cockburn to three games before losing the decider on the road in the first round.
It was a similar story last year at the Slammers as they lost Game 3 of the quarter finals to the Redbacks at Belmont Oasis too, so Nix is fully aware of what a difference earning home court advantage can make.
“My teams have been really good at the end of the year but unfortunately haven’t been able to take care of business probably because of where we’ve finished. We haven’t had home court and that’s hurt us in those Game 3s,” he said.
“Knowing that teams advanced against teams I’ve coached by having two games at home meant it was something I was striving to earn with this team at the start of the year.
“We didn’t have to finish top two because that was a fairly lofty expectation considering where the club had been, but we wanted to finish top four to at least have home-court in the first round. Obviously you have to take care of business but it potentially could be important.”
The travel that was eating into his life with his wife and young family ended up being the deciding factor why Nix didn’t return to the Slammers in 2018 and then he had a big decision to make on what his next step would be.
In the end, the chance to be part of a Redbacks organisation that appeared heading upwards and onwards was something he wanted to be part of even if it meant coaching women for the first time.
“I liked the direction the club was going in. I hadn’t really thought about it and my intention was to go back to Bunbury, but after talking to family and realising the stress and pressure it was putting on at home, I realised I had to change something,” Nix said.
“Ryan Benson was the SBL director at the time and I know him quite well, and he said there could be an opportunity. He organised for me to catch up with the president Anthony Nixon and those two conversations were really all that I needed to hear. There were other opportunities on the table but this was a good fit.
“I actually spoke to Andy Stewart about coaching women as well to get his thoughts and I’m super glad I made the decision. I’ve learned a lot with this group and like every year, I think I’ve grown and developed further. For me, the proof is in the pudding that I made the right decision.”
It’s hard to argue with results and the Redbacks are right on track for a top two finish and to be a genuine championship contender, but what Nix wanted to do at first was work out which of the group of players already at the club he should stick with.
And as time has gone on, the likes of Jess Jakens, Bianca Donovan, Lori Ashworth, Denielle Lipscombe, Alix Hayward and Nes’eya Williams are all thriving under the coaching of Nix. Jess Hughes was too before her season ended with a ruptured ACL.
Then to be topped off with WNBL talent from the Perth Lynx like Kayla Standish and Mikayla Pirini was the icing on the cake along with new import guard Makailah Dyer.
“Culture is everything and the girls who have been here before understand the battle and where this club’s been,” he said.
“It was really important that we kept the likes of Jess Jakens, Jess Hughes, Bianca Donovan and tried to get an Alix Hayward back so we had people who had been through those rough times.
“They obviously have that desire to do well for the club because of where they’ve been so it was important to keep that core here and I saw a lot of talent in the group that probably hadn’t achieved what I thought it could have.
“I thought the pieces we brought in culturally as well as talent-wise were perfect to top up what we already had here.”
As for his own coaching journey, Nix feels like this year at the Redbacks has been significant in his development and while he feels like he has continued to improve and learn, it’s also reinforced that his systems and philosophies can work in different environments.
While in the bigger picture, Nix would like to be able to make a career out of coaching, right now all his focus is on helping this Redbacks group reach its full potential.
“I want to make coaching a career, I’ve never hid away from that. I would love to make it my profession but there’s very, very few opportunities available,” Nix said.
“Part of the reason I do what I do in my work life is because it gives me the ability and opportunity to coach. Coaching is the direction I’d like to keep heading in though.
“I just want to coach and I love coaching, and I’m quite comfortable with my current growth while knowing I still have a long way to go. This has given me confidence that no matter if it’s a female or male team, that my system and ability to adapt can work.
“What I’ve probably learned the most is that they are all just athletes who want to work and get better, so for me it doesn’t matter if they are men or women. But right now my focus is on this team and getting through the next couple of weeks and hopefully having a really good finals series.”