GREG Hire came to the Rockingham Flames in 2018 to make a difference on and off the floor and there’s no doubt he has done that while continuing his terrific work with A Stitch in Time, but make no mistake with playoffs here he is all about winning no matter the opponent.
He is known affectionately as the ‘Major of Wanneroo’ because of the roots he sewed with the Wolfpack during the first 155 games of his SBL career that included being Grand Final MVP in the 2011 championship winning team.
But when he became unavailable due to Perth Wildcats pre-season commitments late in the 2016 playoffs, it created quite a stir with the Wolfpack so when Hire wanted to play SBL again in 2018, the Wolves wanted to make sure he’d be there come the semi finals and Grand Final.
If the Wildcats schedule a pre-season game to clash to that, Hire is obligated to be part of his NBL team so he couldn’t make that commitment and still wanting to play SBL this year, that meant he had to look elsewhere than the club he’s played with his whole life and even sat on the board of.
There’s not too many clubs further from Joondalup than Rockingham, but everything about the approach made to him by the Flames had Hire excited and he knew he could go there and have a real impact particularly in terms of his leadership and helping build the culture for the long-term.
Given he has been a big part of doing just that in the NBL at the Wildcats during his 209-game, three-time championship winning career, then there’s few better qualified players the Flames could have looked to than the ‘Cats vice-captain.
So Hire jumped on board with the Flames and has never regretted it since.
While immediate success wasn’t the ultimate aim with the bigger picture of building something made for sustained success the ultimate goal, reaching the playoffs in 2018 was the obvious driving force and Hire is glad that they’ve now done that.
That doesn’t mean it was an easy move to leave the Wolves, though, in the first place.
“It was definitely an extremely hard decision and I was with that club for however long, won a championship and have been on the board to help shape the club’s vision and philosophies that they have implemented now,” Hire said.
“And I live two minutes down the road so it was definitely a tough decision but at the end of the day I had to make a decision that was best for me. They’ve obviously reached Grand Finals for a number of seasons and they wanted to have a commitment from my end that I would 100 per cent commit to being there during the Grand Finals and semi finals.
“Unfortunately Wildcats take priority and that’s my profession so I couldn’t make that commitment. They weren’t happy with that and they obviously wanted to go with the two imports but I also wanted to get into a club that would provide me the opportunity to excel and really get some confidence.
“Last season in the NBL I was injured a little bit and I wanted to get some miles back into my legs by playing and that’s what Rockingham have given me the opportunity to do. They have allowed me to have the ball in my hands a considerable amount of time in the game and make a difference in all areas.
“In a way it has reinvigorated me and not that I ever hated the game, but I’ve got back to why I loved the game. I have loved mentoring these next up and comers for Rockingham and whilst results haven’t quite gone our way and we’ve just sneaked into the playoffs, it’s about building a core group for a number of years like I’ve seen work at Wolves and Wildcats.
“The beauty of Rocko is that you have a true, local group and the Wolves can say that but it’s not necessarily true. I see that Rocko has the ability to be successful going forward now and that comes from changing the culture and having an expectation that they will win and set the standards.”
While it wasn’t at the old Joondalup Basketball Stadium, Hire did play his first game back at Joondalup last Saturday night for the Flames at the new HBF Arena.
That was an interesting experience for him but as the season has gone on, he has enjoyed the freedom and responsibility he has had with the Flames to work on his all-round game in preparation for another NBL season that he feels might not have happened to the same degree at the Wolves.
“We played Wolves on the weekend and it was a challenge when you go up against a team that’s been top two and plays in Grand Finals, but I look at it if I went back to Wolves I might not have the ball in my hands as much,” he said.
“I wanted the freedom to shoot threes, make plays and that’s what Rockingham have given me. Rockingham for a number of years they haven’t had that playoff success and it takes time to build, but they have an incredible group of youngsters coming through.
“It’s a real family feel too with the Beard brothers and Ryan Godfrey who is a stalwart of the club. When I first got there, we were satisfied by losing a game but showing fight.
“That’s not what I’m about and now we have an expectation not to just fight, we want to win games and really make statements. It’s been fun to try and mould and change that culture to try and become a successful club.”
Setting up the culture at the Flames to be able and ready to achieve long-term success is Hire’s ultimate goal now that he has settled into the club.
He sees plenty of strides forward in what they’ve already achieved in 2018 but now he would love nothing more than tackling the Wolves in the quarter finals next week if it were to eventuate.
But it’s not as if the Flames took on the Geraldton Buccaneers or the Perth Redbacks there wouldn’t be plenty of intrigue as well.
“I just wanted to make playoffs first of all and then last week by securing that against Lakeside was great, but then I thought it would be fun if we played the Wolves in the first round. To be honest, I’d love to knock them out first round and there’s no doubt there’d be a little bit of an edge there,” Hire said.
“There’s a level of arrogance from them, and rightfully so, that they’ve had for a number of years with the success they’ve had. Then being a new group at Rocko, it would be nice to go after them. I had meetings with the Wolves in the off-season where I was told anything short of a championship would be considered a failure.
“They are a high budget team that spends the salary cap for sure and we are a lesser one, so I love that underdog status. With backs to the wall, you see the true strengths of teams. But we’ll wait and see who we play and the SBL and basketball right around Australia continues to grow all the time.
“The SBL is exciting with the quality of players we can now attract and who go on to bigger things. For me it’s exciting for local basketball what we are seeing and when I played five or six years ago, there were a few teams you could dominate but that’s not the case anymore. Across the board, the SBL is a quality product and that’s been evident this year.”
Another thing that Hire has enjoyed immensely in the back half of this season with the Flames is getting to play alongside Illawarra Hawks’ NBL captain Kevin White, who answered an SOS once import Josh Ritchart’s season ended through injury.
“It’s been really special. You have a lot of respect for guys who have a similar pathway and who play the same way so he is obviously very selfless. For me to reach out and him to fly over the next day and play that day against Willetton, and for us to get a quality win, was huge,” Hire said.
“It’s a bond that has strengthened and it’s a friendship that I will have for the rest of my life. I have a tremendous respect for the way he carries himself and we try to recruit high-character guys.
“Anyone could point at his stats not being mind-blowing, but he’s been huge for the club in terms of mentoring guys, getting us locked into sets, showing leadership on the defensive end and having a lot of pride in playing for the club.
“A couple of weeks ago we were playing Redbacks and down 25 at half-time and I was having a stinker, but he came in and gave a ripsnorter of a speech. You don’t see that from too many guys flying in for games and he didn’t have to do that.
“But he did it because he has tremendous respect for the club, the team and the coaching staff. That shows where the Flames are going as a club too and in a way he’s been good to help me by being another veteran guy around the club. He has backed me up with my leadership and you can’t underestimate that.”
While Hire is still loving what he’s doing on the basketball court whether in the SBL with the Flames or in preparation for the 2018/19 NBL season at the Wildcats, it’s his work in raising awareness for mental health and increasing resources towards its prevention that is his true passion.
His work right throughout the state through A Stitch in Time is remarkable and it’s having an impact right throughout the metropolitan area of Perth plus the regional areas, in particular the Kimberly and Pilbara regions.
That’s where his true passion lies and basketball for the 30-year-old is providing him the outlet to perhaps achieve things in the field that he otherwise couldn’t.
“As a Perth Wildcats player you are in a very privileged position and if you want to, you can impact people in some pretty powerful ways and you acknowledge that,” Hire said.
“But getting to go up to the Kimberly and run a basketball workshop in 40 degrees on outdoor courts with kids in no shoes and torn clothes makes you feel grateful of the position you have in life. But you also learn how much they look up to you and appreciate you being there to take the time for them.
“By doing the simplest of things you can impact their lives in a big way just by showing you care. It’s huge. You go up there and you talk about resilience in a community and that’s how it all started. Why I started a program up in Derby and Looma was because a 10-year-old girl took her life.
“Now as a dad to two kids I can’t fathom how a kid at that stage felt her best option was to take her own life. It’s unimaginable. It is a reflection of the poor resources behind mental health services in those communities and reemphasises where we can help.
“While I’m in this position to give back and help people, it’s a no-brainer to do that because I’ve seen firsthand how the simplest of action can change a life in a huge way. Hopefully the education behind it can really make a big difference.”
While Hire is remarkably busy with his work in the mental health field and then with basketball, once he gets home his wife Ainsleigh and their two young children Sullivan and Finley are his full focus.
“The first one was definitely a game changer but the second one is a whole other level, but it’s amazing. I had a bit of a tough upbringing and didn’t always have two parents consistently so to be able to put my love on these two kids every single day is magnificent,” Hire said.
“I can get home after a tough day and my little fella won’t care, he will want to go outside straightaway and ride on his bike or car. My little girl is starting to have little giggles now and tomorrow I could hit 50 threes in-a-row but she’ll throw up on me after a feed and bring me back down.
“It’s also added motivation because we do what we do to give your family some security and structure, but it is the best feeling going home to those kids and having paramount love for them.
“My wife is the most supportive person in the world to allow me to put the time and energy I do into my basketball and the club and the boys as well as my charity so that is quite special. They always say it’s the people around you that make you successful and that’s definitely true.”