Purser at peak of powers but Hawks success his focus
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Purser at peak of powers but Hawks success his focus

HE is right at the top of his game and his team is perhaps playing the best it ever has during his 288-game SBL career leaving the Perry Lakes Hawks captain looking forward to what could await during the 2018 finals series.

Purser has been a mainstay of the Perry Lakes team over the past decade as he nears a 300-game milestone and having grown up seeing the golden era with championships in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, and another Grand Final appearance in 2005 so it was natural he thought he’d be part of more success.

He did play in Grand Finals early in his career in in 2009 and 2011, losing to the Lakeside Lightning and Joondalup Wolves, but there hasn’t been another appearance in a championship decider despite his best efforts.

Purser has continued to be a tremendous player, and now leader, for the Hawks but the last three years has seen them battle to reach the playoffs and then perform strongly in the first round, but ultimately come up short against the Wolves, Cockburn Cougars and Willetton Tigers.

Only a couple of months ago did 2018 look likely to be another season where Perry Lakes was locked in a fight just to reach the playoffs after they went on a five-game losing streak.

But they haven’t lost since going down to the Perth Redbacks at Belmont Oasis way back on May 26.

They have gone on a stunning 11-game winning streak now to be guaranteed of fourth position heading into the final game of the regular season against the Stirling Senators at Warwick Stadium this Saturday night.

Purser is having an outstanding season at both ends of the floor with the Hawks but for him, it’s about the team success and it would mean the world to him if he was able to help Perry Lakes to a sixth Men’s championship and first since 2004.

“It would be huge. I made two Grand Finals, one in my second and another in my third or fourth, and we lost but you think they’ll keep coming around,” Purser said.

“But then you have a bit of a dry spell and you realise they aren’t easy to make and I think the league keeps getting better every year too, and becomes harder to win. To win with this group is what would make especially mean a lot.

“Winning is winning, but to win it with your mates and the group we have would be really special.

“We saw what the girls did last year and that was great, and I was really jealous while happy for them especially with my cousin coming across to play in that team. But the men’s side has such a rich history and it would be nice to add another banner to the list.”

Either side of his college career at Augusta University, Purser has been a strong performer for Perry Lakes and while he looked capable of making an NBL career for himself during his stint as a development player at the Perth Wildcats, it never quite eventuated despite some good moments on the floor.

But his commitment to Perry Lakes has remained strong despite him moving from being a full-time basketballer to now juggling his Hawks commitments with work, and there’s no question both offensively and defensively he is at the peak of his powers right now.

His numbers look good this season averaging 16.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists a game while shooting at 47 per cent from the field, 28 per cent from downtown and 75 per cent from the foul line.

But it’s more than just the numbers. Purser has never been better defensively and it’s the way he is running the team and making big shots in clutch moments that is seeing him having the greatest impact he ever has.

“I don’t know why really, but I do feel like my game is in a good place right now,” Purser said.

“I’m in a bit more of a routine with work and balancing that with training better this year, and I think my role as the three in this team with Jacob and BC is probably better suited than playing the four because I do like to have the ball in my hand and come off the dribble rather than playing in the post.

“Other than that, I’ve tried to lighten the pressure I feel a little and am trying to enjoy it a bit more. That might be why, but I would say I’m having a better year than the last couple of seasons.”

The feeling the Hawks have as a group now as a result of this 11-game winning streak is something Purser is certainly enjoying being part of heading towards the playoffs which they will tackle from fourth position.

“We definitely have a different feeling now in the group and I think there’s a lot to be said at this level about being comfortable in your systems and familiar with one another,” he said.

“I think Joondalup are a prime example of that and they have had same core for five years now and they just know what they’re doing. When you’re only getting two trainings a week, it’s hard to really drill into those systems.

“Early in the season we might have been chopping and changing too much, then we had Jacob come in and it took a little bit to get used to. We kind of expected it to click sooner but you could definitely feel when we turned the corner.

“I think defensively especially we’ve found a groove and offensively we’ve tweaked a couple of things. We are just comfortable with how we’re going and it’s just happened and we seem to be rising to the challenges of every game. For a while there we were potentially missing the playoffs so we had to start winning a few and we have.”

Going back through May when Perry Lakes suffered a five-game losing run with defeats at the hands of Cockburn, South West, Geraldton, Joondalup and Perth.

Given the last three of those were against the top three teams in the league perhaps made the losing run appear worse than it really was, but it did get to a point that the Hawks had to turn things around and Purser couldn’t be happier with the way they’ve responded to win all 11 matches since.

“In one of Jacob’s first games we played one of Lakeside’s first games with Alexander and we beat them, and played really well. Then we came out the next day and lost to Cockburn pretty badly, then lost to Bunbury and they were two bad losses,” Purser said.

“But then we went out and played the top three teams in the league, Geraldton, Joondalup and Redbacks back to back to back. I thought we played OK against Gero, but Joondalup shot the ball really and played really well so we didn’t get it done, and Redbacks are always tough.

“It was a bit of a tough stretch combined with us not being settled in our systems or comfortable with one another. But now we’ve found something that’s working and we’re sticking to it.

“It is a different feeling and everyone just knows where we need to get the ball and everyone’s comfortable in their roles.

“At the start of the year, we were cycling through the rotations a bit more but now we’ve gone back to a more traditional minutes rotation and it’s probably helped the guys know they are going to play for an extended period rather than two minutes on, two minutes off. I don’t think it’s been any one thing, though, it’s been a whole combination.”

The belief the Hawks have now heading towards the playoffs is understandable considering their league-best 11-game winning streak and with that including wins against the Tigers, Wolves, Flames, Redbacks and Buccaneers who are all fellow playoff teams.

Purser has great belief in what his team is capable of but won’t be taking anything for granted.

“We’ve beaten every team above us so there is that feeling we can take it to anyone if we are playing at our best, but I don’t think anyone in the team is under any illusions that it’s totally different,” he said.

“We just want to put ourselves in as high a position as we can. We’ve lost in the first round the last three years competitively, but we’ve still lost.

“There’s every chance of coming up against a tough team in the first round now and doing the same so what we are doing now doesn’t really count for anything until then.

“We just want to keep the form going but be wary that it’s totally different in finals. You have a bit more time to prepare and you are playing the same team three times in-a-row. It’s just a totally different beast in-a-row.”

The Hawks have been in good form come playoff time in each of the past three years and have put up strong fights against higher-ranked opponents in the Wolves, Cougars and Tigers despite coming from eighth position at the end of the regular season.

Ultimately having to try and win Game 3 on the road on each occasion proved a hurdle too far, but Purser is looking forward to having home court advantage at least for the first round this time around likely against either Lakeside or Stirling.

“We have probably played better at home this year, no doubt, and everyone’s a bit more comfortable and shoots the ball a bit better there with the home crowd and everything,” Purser said.

“I don’t think it’s a huge deal, but it’s definitely a factor and you would rather have it than not. You can win anywhere, but you would rather have the familiarity of your home court when it matters.

“It’s more about how you are playing to be honest though. Even though we’ve sneaked into the eight the last few years, we have found a bit of form towards that back end. So we’ll just keep trying to do what we’re doing, but we won’t complain about having home court that’s for sure.”

While Perry Lakes added Lochlan Cummings coming into the season and has since added reigning MVP Jacob Holmen, it’s largely a similar group to the one that has been through the past three years of strong showings in the quarter finals.

That has Purser feeling good about going into battle again alongside the likes of Ryan Smith, Brian Carlwell, Travis Hayto and Rob Cassir, and the next generation led by point guard Mitch Clarke.

“The core group even through our D-League team if you go 15 deep minus Jacob and Lochie, they’ve been here at least three years now most of the guys and some longer even though we’ve lost a couple along the way,” he said.

“So there is that sense of building but a sense of frustration too because each time you think you’re a chance. In that first year against Joondalup, we lost on a putback buzzer-beater, then last year we lost to that Ray Turner buzzer-beater.

“But given we finished where we did, maybe we didn’t deserve it in those years. This time around, I just think we are more hardened and our training scrimmages some of the most intense I’ve been involved in and our bench regularly beats our starting five. I just think it’s a pretty seasoned group right now.”

Purser also feels the way the group has responded to coach Matt Parsons and the way he has adjusted his style in his second year in charge is working a treat as well in 2018.

“I think he had a lot of pressure on him last year coming over from Cockburn and winning a championship, and you could sense the pressure he was under. When we were losing especially, you felt like the weight of the world might have been on his shoulders,” Purser said.

“But he was way more relaxed from the start this year and even during those losses, he was more positive and that rubbed off on the group. Our group, in particular, doesn’t really respond to that rah-rah stuff.

“It’s more about explaining why and this is that because of this, and he’s adjusted to that and we’ve adjusted to him. The second year was always going to be better as well with us more familiar with his systems and offences.”

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