THEY obviously can’t replace his quality or production but Lakeside coach Dave Daniels is proud of the way Jack Isenbarger handled his horrific leg injury and of the way it has brought his group closer together as his excitement grows over what the Lightning is still capable of in 2018.
The Lightning were really on a roll heading into the clash on the Sunday of Round 17 against the Geraldton Buccaneers and a huge part of that was proving to be the combination that import duo Daniel Alexander and Isenbarger were providing.
They were on an unstoppable roll together over the previous seven games averaging together 62 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists a game. On the back of that, Lakeside won six of those and became one of the hottest teams in the league.
But in that first quarter at Lakeside Recreation Centre against the Buccs, things took a horrific turn with a devastating leg injury to Isenbarger that he has since had surgery on to repair the two fractures and dislocation.
It had the potential to be a devastating blow for the Lightning’s 2018 season as well and while they did end up losing that game to Geraldton and also last Saturday night to the Joondalup Wolves. But they had a genuine chance to win both encounters against the top two teams in the league.
That was a positive sign for Daniels as the Lightning now look to finish the regular season strongly with a Round 19 double-header away to Rockingham and home to East Perth, and then with a road trip to Kalgoorlie to face the Goldfields Giants.
The Lightning remain in fifth position with a 13-10 record to be guaranteed of taking part in the playoffs but really what the whole injury to Isenbarger has highlighted, is that there are bigger things than what happens on the basketball court.
But at the same time, Daniels has been tremendously proud of the way Isenbarger has handled the blow and with how close the Lightning group has become as a response.
“It for sure has brought us closer together and you’re never quite sure how a group will respond to something like that,” Daniels said.
“What was really cool was that Jack’s character was revealed immediately when he was praying and quoting scripture, and confessing that he was more than a basketball player, and that he trusted God and that he was going to take care of him.
“All that did was reveal the character of who he is and I would say the same for the team. We were already really close, but we’ve come even closer and that has revealed who we already were.
“There’s no question we are tighter now and to be honest I think Jack has led us into that. The way that he has worked the way through it and dealt with it has had a huge impact on me as a person, and our team individually and as a whole. I couldn’t be more proud of him or the guys.”
While the Lightning will certainly miss what Isenbarger was providing in terms of his ability to run the point, shoot the ball, get to the rim and make everyone around him better, his absence won’t dent the confidence Daniels has in his group being able to compete come playoff time.
“I look forward to that challenge and so do the guys. They are ready to step up and that’s fun. I’ve coached for quite a while and you always want the coach and the team to be lockstep,” Daniels said.
“That’s what you are always hoping and sometimes you are and sometimes you’re not, but throughout this year with this bunch of guys, we’ve been lockstep the whole way.
“I am excited for what lies ahead and I am ready for the challenge, and so is the team. We have a couple of weeks to tighten up what we’re doing and we will continue to work on that.”
There is no hiding from just how good the combination of Alexander and Isenbarger was proving for the Lightning with the numbers they were putting up together and the form the team was in as a result.
But it quickly became obvious when Isenbarger went down that it was an injury where basketball became secondary and Daniels couldn’t have been prouder of the response of everyone involved from Isenbarger down.
“They were proving pretty lethal and had probably been averaging right at 70 the last three or four weeks. But it’s bigger than basketball and that’s what we say here at Lakeside,” Daniels said.
“We say it’s more than a game and sometimes with people or clubs or organisations, you do lip service to that but that’s not the case here. That’s evidenced by the way the team, Jack himself, the organisation and our church have handled this shows that it really is bigger than the game.
“Obviously we do want to win and we’re competitive, and none of that takes a backseat now, but there are things that are bigger.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Jack just with the way he handled that right from the beginning and the way our team came around him. The way he has now handled the surgery and everything is super encouraging and bigger than the game.”
What the absence of Isenbarger will mean is more ball handling roles for the likes of Matt Vinci, Nick Palleschi and Rowan Mackenzie.
Given the Lightning started the season with both Mason Bragg and Isenbarger, and now have neither, that’s a significant change but Daniels has full faith in those players he will now have running the point for the remainder of 2018.
“The bulk of the change is going to be with Vinci, Nick Palleschi and Rowan who will now be our point guard by committee,” he said.
“They can all handle the ball and shoot it, and are all good players so it’s about just finding the right rotation and them finding their comfort zone of having the ball in their hands. It can be a different thing having that responsibility.
“I do think the next couple of weeks are important as we continue to build on that and they get comfortable. Like everybody, we want to be peaking come playoff time and we have a bit of a shorter time than most to be making these adjustments, but I’m really excited with the steps we have taken already.”
The Lightning could also be buoyed by the returning of emerging youngster Corey Shervill ahead of the playoffs which would be a significant boost for Daniels and his team.
“Corey is a chance to make it back, we’re still waiting to see when. He is rehabbing and he is week to week. He would be a significant addition for us and we are obviously hoping for his sake and ours that he gets healthy,” Daniels said.
“But we have guys who have stepped up all year and what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks is that we are deep and have a lot of capable players who can step.
“Obviously any time you add a quality player you become better and he is such a great team guy that he fits right in, but even if he’s not able to come back we have the pieces and guys who have done the work and who are prepared to step into those roles. Either way I feel good about the future.”
Daniels continues to be enjoying his time in Australia and at Lakeside immensely too.
His wife and two daughters have thrown themselves fully into life at Lakeside and they couldn’t have been happier to have made the move, and to know they will at least be back in 2019 as well.
“If anything we are loving the life here the same but we are feeling even more settled. I’m missing the sunshine a little bit and we are all ready for that to come back but where we are from in the States, it gets legitimately cold in the winter,” Daniels said.
“So this is still like fall weather for us. Everything about being here has been great and my kids love it, my wife loves it and we are really enjoying Lakeside and I love working with this team.
“We have talked about looking forward to next year already and sometimes that can be a negative thing for me to start looking ahead rather than enjoying the moment you are currently in.
“So I’m trying to enjoy the moment and where I am but we are super excited that we are going to be here for another year at least while enjoying what is ahead of us for the rest of this year now.”