HAVING eliminated the defending champions, the Stirling Senators have their sights on stopping the Joondalup Wolves reaching a fourth straight Men’s SBL Grand Final with coach Mike Ellis signalling it’s time to have a ‘red hot crack’ at that elusive maiden championship.
It has been quite the journey for the Senators to now be part of the final four in the Men’s SBL for 2018 with the club having only reached one Grand Final in the SBL era and that was right back in 1990 when Ellis was part of a team that lost to the Perth Redbacks.
It was the Redbacks again their opponents in the quarter finals of 2018 and as defending champions with that core group all back and topped up by Mo Barrow and Jackson Hussey along with having home court advantage, the job did appear ahead of Ellis’ Senators.
They did lose Game 1 at Belmont Oasis but played well in what was a tremendous contest before getting Game 2 in impressive fashion at Warwick Stadium 107-96 last Friday night.
They then had to come from behind on Saturday back at Belmont Oasis, but finished strongly to win 71-69 in front of a large and raucous crowd to win their way into the semi finals which begins this Saturday night against the Wolfpack with Game 1 at HBF Arena.
Championship success is not something the Senators have enjoyed in the SBL and you have to go right back to 1975 for the Stirling Basketball Association to have held up the major trophy.
Ellis was there then and has virtually never left, aside from a brief stint as a player for the now defunct Swan City Mustangs and then some time away ahead of his appointment as head coach at the Senators in 2016.
Since his return to the club, it’s been a slow build for Ellis and the Senators who reached the playoffs the past two years before losing in competitive first round showings to the Willetton Tigers in 2016 and Geraldton Buccaneers in 2017.
Stirling was fighting for a top four spot for most of 2018 before ending up sixth at 14-12 to set up the battle with the Redbacks, but Ellis always felt they were on an upward trend.
To now be in the semi finals, he sees no reason why that’s where it has to end.
“It’s part of a journey that we’ve been on and the destination isn’t what you want to look at, you want to enjoy the journey along the way. Right now, this is part of that journey and it’s as far as we’ve travelled so far,” he said.
“We still have some road to travel but it means a lot to get to this point. It’s an emotional thing for us because Stirling has always been around, but never really had a red hot crack at it. It’s about time we had a red hot crack at it. We have an opportunity to do that now and we have to grab it with both hands.”
As confident as the Senators are now feeling ahead of the semi finals after beating the Redbacks, Ellis is fully aware of the challenge that awaits in the form of the Wolfpack who have played in the past three Men’s SBL Grand Finals and five of the past seven, including winning two championships.
“It’s a massive test, it’s a huge test. Geraldton might have finished on top, but I think Joondalup’s been the benchmark for the season even though they finished second. They’ve been the benchmark for a long, long time too,” Ellis said.
“They have been in championship games on numerous occasions, they’ve won numerous championships and they know what it takes to get that done. That’s experience that you can’t replicate without being there.
“The challenge for us is going to be huge but with that said, we have nothing to lose. We’ve made it to the next level and most people had written us off against the Redbacks and will write us off again.
“We are the underdogs which I’m OK with and Joondalup certainly aren’t going to take us lightly I can tell you that. But I’m looking forward to the challenge, it’s going to be great.”
Without question, what Ellis is most proud about with the Senators growth and development is the fact that they have done it by largely providing opportunities to local products and backing them in to be key players at SBL level.
Ellis was quick to note the fact that teams like his Stirling line-up and that of the Rockingham Flames were able to knock out deep and stacked Redbacks and Buccaneers rosters, and doing so largely with Stirling and Rockingham products.
Aside from Corban Wroe, who is now entrenched at Stirling, and imports Justin King and Robert Anshila, Cody Ellis, Caleb Davis, Ash Litterick and Jayden Coburn are all local products with big roles to play.
Even Jay and Logan Thwaites have now been at Stirling for a long time as has veteran Tom Witts while Austin Bruton is even a Stirling product.
That makes Ellis even prouder to have advanced to the semi finals with the group that he has because it shows all the youngsters playing in the Stirling district that there is a clear pathway to play in the SBL.
“It justifies the fact that you can do it from within your club, it just takes a lot of work and sometimes a lot of time,” he said.
“Rockingham is similar to us and they’ve been playing for a long time without success. We’ve been doing the same thing but it means a hell of a lot for us to have done things the way we have and to now be in this position, not just for the team of players but the club as a whole.
“The thing that we pride ourselves on as a club is that we want to develop our kids from within our club. If you have a look at that group with the exception of Corban and Caleb who have come across, imports aside, and all of those players are Stirling players.
“They were Stirling juniors with the exception of the Thwaites boys who did come across five or six years ago. That to me means more than anything the fact that we are not just doing it, but doing it with Stirling boys.
“From a juniors’ perspective, they’ve got to know that there is a clear pathway to coming through the juniors and getting a shot in our SBL team. That’s the most important and pleasing thing of what we’re doing.”
Another thing that blew Ellis away in Game 3 last Saturday at Belmont Oasis, was the atmosphere created by both the Redbacks and Senators faithful.
It was a packed building and was really rocking down the stretch with a place in the semi finals and Ellis credits the Senators crowd for their support in playing a big factor in motivating their team to get the job done.
“We got in here before the game started a bit early and I parked at the front door which I’ve never been able to do before. There was no one here except two or three of our people, and a couple of theirs in the crowd,” Ellis said.
“I’m thinking this was going to be like a morgue and we went into the locker room to talk and came back out, and the people were piling in. The crowd and atmosphere was just fantastic, and for the sport and the SBL it was superb.
“Those guys had a fantastic crowd who were noisy and screaming for their team, and we had the same. Both sides were just emotional around the game and it was just fantastic. It’s the best atmosphere I’ve seen in the SBL for a long time.”