EARNEST Ross was never sure he’d venture to Western Australia again after his Perth Wildcats NBL stint but he’s thriving on his SBL experience at the Geraldton Buccaneers and would love nothing more than to help them end their championship drought.
Ross has joined the Buccs this season and he looks every bit a player who if he was in the NBL and classified as a local for the 2018/19 NBL season, he could potentially be a difference-maker for any number of clubs across the competition.
He never quite had the impact he hoped his stint with the Wildcats back in the 2014/15 season after working hard get into shape, and then his season ended with an Achilles injury late in the campaign after 18 appearances and the final two years of his contract never eventuated.
After that, Ross was never sure if he’d venture back into the NBL and as of yet he hasn’t returned, but with an Australian wife and daughter, the country remains close to his heart and he did go on to have a season in the SEABL at the Ballarat Miners in 2016.
He then spent a season in Denmark, played for the Super City Rangers in the NZ NBL in 2017 and then impressed with Al Wakrah in Qatar averaging 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds a game leading into his arrival in Geraldton with the SBL season already underway.
Ross has been tremendous with the Buccs upon arrival averaging 19.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game helping them to regular season championship with a 23-3 record and having only lost one of the 19 matches Ross played in.
That was until last Saturday night at Mike Barnett Sports Complex when the eighth-seeded Flames rocked the Buccaneers with a win before Games 2 and potentially 3 take place at Active West Stadium this weekend.
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Ross couldn’t have enjoyed his Geraldton experience any more so far and he’s seen firsthand what a championship would mean to the Buccs given their history of being so close so many times since 2000.
At the same time, he knows how important it is to not look too far ahead.
“It would mean a lot, that would definitely complete something and it would be a great achievement in my career. It would be one of the biggest achievements in my career to do something like that and I hope we can get it done and be the ones celebrating at the end,” Ross said.
“I came in and settled in pretty well. They brought me in pretty well and helped me quickly adjust to things, and pretty much from there everything has been just rolling for me. Obviously we’ve been winning games so that’s made it a much easier adjustment as well.
“My main thing right now is to keep us continuing rolling and we were on a nice little streak heading into the playoffs, and we have a really good chemistry in our team. I’m just here to try to help us win games and do what I can as a leader for us to win.”
As for his own future, Ross would be open to a return to the NBL if an opportunity came up and he would be more than happy to spend more time in Australia, but at the same time his full focus right now is on the job at hand with Geraldton.
“I’m a person that just takes things as they come and if the opportunity is granted in certain situations, then if it happens it happens,” he said.
“For me though, I’m just focused on this SBL season with Geraldton and from there, once we do what we have to do then I’ll take that next step. If it means playing in the NBL, then I’d be happy with that.
“I really didn’t think I’d be back here to be honest. At the time when that happened, a lot of stuff goes through your mind so for that to occur and for me to actually be back in the same state in Australia, I’m just happy with how it worked out.
“I’ve got daughter from Australia and my wife is from Australia so I knew I would be back in Australia, but playing here is a whole different path. I’m just happy to be back here, especially in the Western Australia area, and it feels good. It definitely feels great to be back out here and enjoy this weather, it’s tough to call this winter.”
Ross wasn’t sure what his next stop on his basketball journey would be following his season ending in Qatar, but the University of Missouri alum quickly liked everything he heard from the Buccs once they made contact.
Even before getting to Geraldton, he felt embraced by the club and that’s why he was already looking forward to getting to town and helping them in their title quest.
“The unity was obvious to me and the players reached out to me from where I was at even when I wasn’t here. I could just sense that it felt like a team from the start and even when I wasn’t here, they would keep talking to me and tell me they couldn’t wait for me to get out here,” he said.
“They always kept me engaged and I had Andrew Horstman messaging me and I’d stay in contact with the guys. I just knew when I got here it would all come together as one and that’s what has happened. We are like one big family and we all stay together. To me that stood out from the start.”
One thing Ross has done since arriving in Geraldton, too, is embrace the culture and history of the club and the community he’s now part of.
A few weeks back the club hosted a 30-year anniversary celebration too and he enjoyed getting to see a lot of the old faces and it makes him even more motivated to help this group of 2018 be successful by understanding that history.
“When it comes stuff like that with charity events and them having the 30-year anniversary game, I’m always involved with things like that and I enjoy it,” Ross said.
“Geraldton does have a lot of history and it’s great for the players like us to come out and appreciate those type of things because 10 or 20 years down the line maybe one day it might be any of our jerseys hanging or we might have our own 30-year anniversary celebration.
“It’s always a great time to come out and celebrate what has happened in the past and that was definitely a great weekend but what’s most important now is this finals series and we are just trying to stay focused on that to keep our heads on right. We celebrated that at the time but now it’s down to business.”
The most impressive part of what Ross has brought to the Buccaneers this season has been his unselfishness.
Clearly he has all the gifts to put up MVP calibre numbers in the SBL but that might not be what this team needs to fire given the talents in the form of Gokul Natesan, Colter Lasher, Marcus Alipate, Liam Hunt and Aaron Ralph.
What the team needed to fire was for everyone to play unselfish basketball and given their spread of top-class talent and leadership of captain Mat Wundenberg there was every chance of them being unstoppable.
They certainly looked that way at times since Ross’ arrival winning 18 of the 19 games and that could still be the case if they respond well to last week’s loss in Rockingham.
Ross has enjoyed taking on more of that role playing position on the Buccs team.
“I feel like one of my roles is to come in and get everybody on the same page. When I first came it was kind of uncertain how I would fit on the team and stuff like that, but with the guys we have on the team we are all such unselfish players,” he said.
“So for me to come in and be an addition to that unselfishness makes it a lot better. We feel good playing with each other and we feel good on the court.
“Even though we might go through some adversity, we still have faith in each other and the chemistry we have is great. I’m just happy to be part of that and an organisation like this.”
Ross was proud to help the Buccaneers claim the regular season championship in the SBL for 2018, but knows that counts for nothing with the playoffs here and that’s even more the case after losing Game 1 of the quarter finals to the Flames.
“It was a good achievement for us to finish with that top spot but you can only celebrate something like that for so long because once playoffs basketball starts it’s pretty much a whole new season. For us we have to focus on the task in front of us and that’s a pretty big one right now,” Ross said.
“We can’t afford to do anything but take it game by game and that’s what I’ve been striving to tell the younger guys. We have to stay focused on the task at hand and not get ahead of ourselves. We just need to do what need to do now.
“It’s not just this organisation, but for any team in the league I think a championship would mean a lot to them. But to stay focused on Geraldton, I think bringing a championship would be great obviously.
“The last one they won was 2000 so to bring something like that back here wouldn’t just mean a lot to us players, but the whole community as well. We are looking forward to staying focused on trying to do that.”