DAMIEN Scott came to the Willetton Tigers for more SBL success and he sees no reason it can’t still happen in 2018 with the first challenge against the team that eliminated them in 2016 before potentially then facing their conquerors of 12 months ago.
Scott joined Willetton in 2015 having enjoyed terrific personal and team success at the Cockburn Cougars highlighted by the 2012 championship, but a desire to play under Alan Black and alongside the likes of Kyle Armour and Nic Cody piqued his interest.
While Stephen Black soon replaced his dad as coach early in 2016, Scott has continued to thrive at the Tigers and his on and off-court bond that has built especially with Jay Bowie, Armour, Andrew Black and over a three-year stretch now has been impressive.
The Tigers rose to the semi finals in 2016 and had a cracking series against the Joondalup Wolves before ultimately coming up short in Game 3 at Joondalup Basketball Stadium to miss out on a Grand Final berth.
With Ray Turner on board, Willetton improved further in 2017 going on to claim the regular season championship and get back to the semi finals, but this time it would be eventual champions the Perth Redbacks who ended their championship dreams.
The 2018 regular season was an up and down affair for the Tigers starting with losing three of their first four games to teams that also reached the playoffs in the Wolves, Senators and Buccs.
They were then able to go on a five-game winning run to get back on track but the rollercoaster would continue right up until the Round 19 win over the Kalamunda Eastern Suns that secured a playoff berth for Willetton while ending the hopes of the Suns.
They did then lose to the Hawks and Buccs to come into the playoffs and the quarter-final series against the Wolfpack from seventh position with a 13-13 record.
However, for Scott and the Tigers all that mattered was qualifying for the playoffs and now that they are there, they are confident of causing some upsets and they know it’s possible given how close they were to bowing out in the first round last year as top seeds.
The fact it’s another battle with the Wolves who they lost to in 2016 just adds fuel to the fire for Scott and the Tigers with the potential of then facing the Redbacks in the semi finals.
“We know that those top teams are super strong but whether we come into the playoffs first or eighth, we are confident that we can go with anybody in the league and we’re looking forward to the playoffs now,” Scott said.
“We’ve got that history there and it all sticks in the back of your mind any time you play those teams again, and especially when you get the chance to play them in the playoffs again.
“Those losses to Joondalup and Redbacks the last couple of years stick with you and you want the chance to make up for it if you can, hopefully we can do that.”
Things came to a head late in the season for the Tigers with an overtime loss at home to the Cougars. That was a third successive loss that left their finals place in jeopardy, but they responded with wins against Mandurah, East Perth and Kalamunda to book their playoff spot.
“We knew where we needed to get better and we just came out during the week and knuckled down on what we needed to focus on. We know that when we’re playing our game we can compete with everybody,” Scott said.
“That Cockburn game was massive for us and I guess we all left after that game taking a good, hard look at ourselves. We focused on coming out better after that firstly to book a finals spot and then to get ready for it.”
Once the playoffs start, really it doesn’t matter how you got there or where you enter from and that’s the way Scott is looking at the chances for the Tigers entering this campaign starting Saturday night at Joondalup’s new HBF Arena.
“It’s super exciting to now be at the business end of the season. It’s a long season so to finally get to chance to play some playoffs is what we all want to do, and what we play during the season for to get to. I’m super excited to reach the playoffs and seeing how far we can go,” he said.
“It’s massive that drive to try and go all the way with this club. Having gone so close the last couple of years going to the semi finals and losing there two years in-a-row, we know we are good enough to win it and it sits with everybody. We all know what we need to do, we just to be better when it matters most during the playoffs.”
Scott himself is coming into the playoffs in a terrific run of form. Having averaged 19.7 points, 5.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds over the course of the season to earn the club’s MVP honours for 2018, his last two games were something else.
He had 25 points in the first half against Perth Lakes on his way to 29 for the night while then putting up 41 points on the trip to Geraldton against the Buccs.
He is playing as well as he ever has and having transitioned from a somewhat pure scorer who loved to get up a lot of shots, his game is vastly more refined where he contributes in an all-round capacity and his ball-handling, distribution, defence, rebounding and leadership are all now at career-best levels.
Having had great success at Cockburn highlighted by that championship, Scott certainly now feels like Willetton is home too.
“I’m still loving my basketball and loving my role here at Willo. It hasn’t changed a lot over the last couple of years and I can see myself still growing as a player every season,” he said.
“Willetton definitely feels like home for me now. I’ve played a lot of games here now and it really does feel like home going to games and training, and putting on the singlet. It feels very good and I’m very happy to be at this club.”
While Scott did initially come to Willetton to play under Alan Black, he’s more than enjoying life under Steve now and he’s looking forward to playing under him still at least until the end of 2020 after he had his contract extended by the club.
“It’s good to see Steve getting another two years as coach as well and I’m looking forward to the future under him. Going from Al to Steve, they are pretty straight with you and they know what you can do, and they put you in the right spots,” Scott said.
“Having Steve coach me the last couple of years has been great and I look forward to keeping on doing that.
“Steve has definitely got to know our group a lot better the longer he’s been coach even though he obviously already knew us pretty well. He’s just trying to put us in the right places to win and I think he’s doing that. It then just comes down to us to execute what he’s putting in place.”