AFTER three straight years of losing to the top seed in the first round, the Perry Lakes Hawks finally reached the semi finals in 2018 but then suffered another devastating injury blow only to show the toughness coach Matt Parsons wanted to see to now reach the Grand Final.
Parsons arrived as coach of Perry Lakes on the back of leading the Cockburn Cougars to the 2016 Men’s SBL championship having also eliminated the Hawks in a tough three-game first round series.
Then last year, the Hawks had their chances again as the No. 8 seed against the Willetton Tigers but couldn’t quite close it at home in Game 2 and lost in Game 3 for a third successive elimination in the quarter finals at the hands of the regular season champions.
This year promised so much for the Hawks but it has taken great heart to now be in Saturday night’s Grand Final against the Joondalup Wolves following season-ending injuries to Travis Monroe, Dan Thomas and Jacob Holmen.
It was when Holmen went down early in Game 1 of the semi finals against the Rockingham Flames that it looked like it might have been one blow too many for Perry Lakes.
They went on to lose that Game 1 at Bendat Basketball Centre by 19 points but then showed enormous toughness, heart and determination to beat the Flames twice last weekend in front of almost combined attendances of 3000 to reach the club’s first Grand Final since 2011.
Parsons never doubted the character of his group and was proud of them having found that character and belief to fight through whatever is thrown at them.
“We never questioned the character of our team at all and we kind of built this team to be deep and be able to get through periods of injury and adversity. We knew that was something we’ve been talking about and have built ourselves for over the last couple of years,” Parsons said.
“It’s never a nice thing when it happens to one of our core players like Jacob is, but we knew there were other people there that could step up and I think that’s what happened in this series.
“At the end of the day, we know we’re a man down and we knew we have to pull out those extra effort levels from certain people. Everyone this weekend who got opportunities did that and they represented their club proudly.”
Parsons has worked hard in the past two years since arriving at Perry Lakes to ensure his playing group had that belief to win under any circumstances to show the determination and toughness to want to win those clutch games when everything is on the line.
It is courage that sums up those two wins over Rockingham to reach the Grand Final more than anything and he’d be proud if that’s now the reputation the Hawks are known for.
“It’s great to have a DNA as a club to hold yourselves to account for and toughness is the standard we want to uphold and the boys have continued to live to it,” he said.
“We are really happy with where we’re at but also fully aware that our attention now turns to the Grand Final. That’s the game we want and we have to be ready for it.
“When the chips are down it’s our ability to come together as a group and we challenged a lot of thought processes early in the season and went through bad patches, and worked on these things.
“We practiced for every situation so when it comes down to that in a game we understand what we’re trying to do. It’s never three guys doing one thing and two doing something else, we’re all on the same page and that makes it easier to close out tight games when you’re all in the right spots.”
Getting over that first round hoodoo beating the Lakeside Lightning in three games was a huge step in the progression of this Perry Lakes group as they now prepare for a first Grand Final since 2011 and try to win the club’s first Men’s championship since 2004.
“There was more of a monkey on the back in the sense that they had this hoodoo in that first round, but had they got through in one of those years they could have gone all the way,” Parsons said.
“But we were able to get through this year and it goes back to the accountability measures we have in place as a program. They have helped us bridge that gap and get over that hump. I’m extremely proud of the club because they are hard-working and are a good bunch. I love coaching them, I really do.”
While the Hawks with Parsons, Conrad Francis and his coaching staff have been able to make adjustments over two three-game series in the playoffs so far, he knows it’s a very different story come the Grand Final.
“The Grand Final is a one off game and you don’t have time to outwit or outskill your opponent, and go back to the drawing board to try something different. It literally comes down to who wants every single possession the most,” Parsons said.
“Our guys are aware of that, we’ve been playing that the last couple of weeks and we’ll continue to ride that wave where we can. When the time comes that we need to grind it out then we will.”
Understandably the likes of Ben Purser, Ryan Smith, Lochlan Cummings and youngsters Mitch Clarke and Cooper Hamilton have received a lot of the accolades for the performances of Perry Lakes, but Brian Carlwell and Rob Cassir can’t be overlooked.
Carlwell is a championship winner from Cockburn back in 2012 and might not be the focal point or dominant force he was then, but his importance grew further when Holmen went down and he delivered two tremendous performances last weekend against Rockingham.
Then there’s Cassir who two years ago was resigned to never playing again because of his knee troubles, but he is now playing a big role and is co-captain of a team playing in the Grand Final.
“BC has been really good the past couple of weeks and he’s in a really good space. He sees the challenge with a guy like Curtis (Washington) who is a quality big in this league and BC wants to be a quality big in this league, and he is, and he is showing that,” Parsons said.
“The telling story over those last two games was that he kept Curtis to three rebounds and he loves a challenge, and he steps up when that time comes.
“He (Cassir) is a great story and when I first came to the club there was huge doubt that we’d see him on the court again. But he is as stubborn as you can be hard-headed and he refused to believe that.
“With his age and with this run that we’re going on, he is really bought in and he’s enjoying himself again. He kind of looks like he is a 22-year-old again instead of being 27 in a 48-year-old’s body.”
Another player Parsons was looking at to help bring that harder edge to Perry Lakes in 2018 was Dan Thomas who part of his 2016 championship team at Cockburn.
While his season ended prematurely through injury, Thomas remains an important part of the Hawks make up and Parsons couldn’t speak more highly of his contribution.
“DT is a very influential figure. He is vocal, he speaks up when he needs to and he’s a chatty little bugger anyway. When he has something to say, he makes it very pointed and it can be easier to absorb things when they come at you like that,” Parsons said.
“We brought him in here for that and for his guidance and tutelage on guys like Mitch Clarke and Adrian Nobensi, and we’re really happy to have him. He’s now helping us coaching staff and is offering his advice. We get great value out of him.”