TRIAN Iliadis is feeling fresher than he has in a long time at the business end of an SBL season and he’s thrived in 2018 being able to play the shooting guard role with the arrival of Brian Sullivan as he looks to help lead the Joondalup Wolves to another championship.
During this remarkable run for the Wolves of now reaching a fourth consecutive Grand Final and a sixth in the past eight years, Iliadis has been a mainstay through the majority of that and especially the past three seasons he has carried quite a load.
Being asked to be the point guard and leading shot maker and scorer is a role his abilities were more than capable of handling, evidenced especially in Grand Final MVP winning performance in 2015, but it also took its toll.
Iliadis perhaps felt his energy levels as a result weren’t quite what they needed to be in the past two Grand Finals in losses to the Cockburn Cougars and Perth Redbacks, so something had to change in 2018 and it’s all been for the betterment of himself and the team.
The arrival of Brian Sullivan to play the point guard while also being a strong scorer along with fellow new import Jalen Billups has allowed Iliadis to switch over to the two guard spot and not have the same pressure as ball handler, distributor and scorer as he has over the past three years.
Combined with his workload being managed during the season to coincide with growing work commitments and he was feeling as fresh as he can remember entering the playoffs.
That’s why he was able to put together some tremendous defensive performances firstly on Willetton’s Damien Scott and then Stirling’s Justin King to help the Wolfpack to a fourth straight Grand Final this Saturday against Perry Lakes Hawks at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Following the past two years on the back of his dominant 2015 season culminating in the championship and Grand Final MVP award, Iliadis felt he needed a refresher in his basketball in 2018 and that has come in the form of moving to the shooting guard role which he has thrived on.
“I’ve loved it and I needed it to be honest. Playing point guard and having a lot of the offensive load is pretty tough so to have Brian come in and pretty do that has been huge,” Iliadis said.
“He’s been playing point guard and scoring with Jalen carrying a lot of that load as well, but in the playoffs Brian has been huge. That’s been good for me just to play secondary off Brian in the back court and focus on other things. I’ve absolutely loved it.”
Because of how good offensively he has been throughout his career as a prolific scorer, stunning outside shooter and even a strong driver and finisher at the rim, it’s been easy to overlook Iliadis’ defence over his career.
But even going back to his college career, it’s something he has always worked hard on and he’s proud that people are starting to take notice after showings like in the playoffs so far up against two of the league’s best two men, Scott and King.
“I’ve always focused on it and the college we went to was defensively-minded and we’d regularly hold teams to 50 points and didn’t care if we only scored 60 so if I couldn’t have played defence I wouldn’t have gone to Old Dominion to play for Blaine Taylor,” he said.
“I knew that defence was a weakness of mine which motivated me to work at it, but it’s been spotlighted the last couple of series having to guard Scotty in transition who runs around like a crazy person.
“That was a good dress rehearsal for one of the best players in the league this year, Justin King. They play similar and they like to take you off the dribble and get the ball in the back court and dribble past you with an on-ball in the open court.
“If I could limit King as much as possible I knew I was doing a role for the team and then it was good to hit a shot or two in Game 2 as well.”
Another thing helping keep Iliadis fresh at this time of the year has been the ability to have not been run into the ground all season long like perhaps has happened in previous years, even if juggling the commitments of basketball and work is becoming harder.
“It’s not easy and a lot of us have full-time commitments. I don’t have kids yet which makes it a little easier for me and I don’t know how guys like Damo and Seb do it with kids, a full-time job and playing here,” Iliadis said.
“But my career has kicked off quite a bit this year and I’ve had to miss the odd game because of it but Etto understands that we have lives outside of basketball. Having said that, now that we’re at this stage this is my sole focus at least for this week anyway.”
The other factor in not only Iliadis, but the whole Wolves team being primed and ready for the playoffs rather than already been exhausted has been their increased depth in 2018 and the fact the whole group has been together uninterrupted all season.
That has allowed nobody to have to be ridden into the ground, players to be given a break when required to ensure they are fresh for the finals and Iliadis couldn’t be happier with how it’s all turned out.
“Last year we went through a couple of different Americans and then Ryan Wright came in at the end of the year and we had to adjust to him playing, and us guys who have played a lot of games had to carry the load for a bit,” he said.
“But this year we’ve had two guys come in pretty early and play the whole season both Brian and Jalen which took the pressure of guys like Rob, myself, Seb and then we’ve had Maxy stepping up into the starting five, Jordan Wellsteed play absolutely huge in Game 1 against Stirling and the young guys keep pushing us all the time.
“It was good to be able to have even more depth than we’ve had any other year because that allowed some of the older guys to rest during the year and then really have a crack at the playoffs.”
One thing the Wolves do have to deal with every week is the fact that whoever they come up against, they get the opposition’s best and they always throw everything at them.
Iliadis felt that might have got the group down a little mid-season and they went through a slump of losing four of six games, but they rebounded strongly to finish the regular season impressively and now go through the playoffs with four straight wins.
“It got to us a bit I think during the season and we understand that people give us their best shot when they play us, and at times this year we struggled to cope with that a bit,” Iliadis said.
“A couple of our losses were ones where we didn’t come out and play to our best, but as you get towards the playoffs we know that’s why we play.
“I was really proud of the boys that we were able to come together even closer than we already were, string a few wins together towards the end of the season and carry that onto the finals.
“We have come across a pretty hungry and talented Willetton team who were probably better than where they finished but Jay Bowie missed a lot of the year. Having him back made a real difference to how we had to play defence.
“Then Stirling had three NBL players, a couple of Americans and some really good, young local guys as well who had beaten the defending champs. We knew we were in for a battle but the way we came out and played in both games meant I was very proud of the boys.”
Going back to last year and that Grand Final loss to the Redbacks was tough to stomach for Iliadis and his Wolves teammates 12 months on from also losing to the Cougars, but with the opening of HBF Arena it created a new sense of excitement.
The playing group committed to one another to start pre-season early with an eye to being managed well during the season to stay fresh and it’s probably worked out better than even Iliadis envisioned.
“It took a little while to get over the Grand Final last year and when Etto sent out the message about when we were starting the brain was all in, but the body was still aways off,” he said.
“But we all trust the coaching staff and Cam Britt and Ryan Thompson to bring guys in like Brian and Jalen to really help out during the year.
“That allowed some of the guys who have been around for quite a number of years to manage our work load to a degree and work in with other parts of our lives.
“To have some of the young guys coming through as well who train with us every week, we had full trust in the system that we had that we could start early, manage our bodies and this year still compete at a high level.”
It might be a fourth successive SBL Grand Final for Iliadis and the Wolves, but they are taking nothing for granted in terms of being there or in the Perry Lakes Hawks as their opponents.
“You never want to take any season for granted and a lot of players don’t ever get a chance to play in one Grand Final, and we understand that and are students of the game who have been around the SBL for a while,” Iliadis said.
“We know some of the legends that don’t get this opportunity so for us to be here again especially after how we’ve played the last couple of years is pretty special.
“Losing arguably their best player in Game 1 of the semi-final and go on the road in front of 1500 people and scrap out a win, and come back the next day and pull out another tough win shows the character they have and how well coached they are.
“We know we are going to be up for one hell of a fight come Saturday but hopefully we can weather any punches they throw, and can come out on top.”