TWO years ago he was resigned to never playing again, 12 months ago he thought he had done well to eke out one last season but now Rob Cassir is co-captain of a Perry Lakes Hawks team in the SBL Grand Final and he couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.
The Cassir story looked set to be one of a career cut disappointingly short because of degenerative knee complaints and during the off-season ahead of the 2017 season, he had just about come to the terms with the fact that he wouldn’t play again.
He had already packed plenty into his career as a development player in the NBL for the Perth Wildcats, winning a gold medal at the World University Games and a silver medal at the under-18 National Championships, so he had plenty to be proud of if it was his career over.
Cassir had long battled a bad left knee, but when his right knee showed similar signs of degeneration he was told that he should undertake surgery that might relieve the pain and allow for mobility in daily life, but mean that playing on a basketball court would no longer be possible.
He just wasn’t ready to bite that bullet because surgery might relieve the pain but mean the end of his basketball career that in terms of the SBL began at the Willetton Tigers after he attended Willetton Senior High School before then Wildcats assistant coach Shawn Dennis lured him to the Hawks.
It’s a remarkable story of courage, pain-tolerance and determination that Cassir has now been able to put together two strong seasons in 2017 and 2018 to the point now where he is co-captain, and a real contributor on a Perry Lakes team in Saturday night’s Grand Final against the Joondalup Wolves.
Not only has Cassir been able to return the past two years, but he’s only missed a handful of games and none have been through injury and it’s hard to imagine a more deserving story of someone to get a chance to lead their team into a Grand Final.
Two years ago he couldn’t have even begun to think he would have got through two complete seasons and be preparing to be a co-captain in a Grand Final, but he’s certainly not complaining.
“I definitely wouldn’t have thought I’d be here a couple of years ago so it’s nice. We have a great bunch of guys here and couldn’t imagine a better group to be part of and to be heading into a Grand Final with,” Cassir said.
“It’s about being stubborn more than anything I guess. I had a lot of support from my family, my friends, my teammates and the club that has helped me.
“I’ve been close a couple of times to calling the quits but with all that support behind me I managed to fight through and now I’m here and couldn’t be happier.”
Cassir has found a way to battle through his knee problems but the reality is they will never get better and before long he will need knee replacements, but he is grateful for every time he’s able to step back on the court.
“The knees are OK. I feel them and they’re still there which they remind me of after every training and every game but they’re feeling as OK as they can,” he said.
“Throughout the last few years I’ve really just taken it day by day and I’m grateful to get through every session and every game that I can. I try not to plan too far ahead so we’ll wait and see about moving forward.”
While his individual story is remarkable, Cassir is the ultimate team man and that’s why he is co-captain of the Perry Lakes team alongside Ben Purser.
It’s also why he couldn’t care if his line in the box score was full of zeroes, all he wants to do is help contribute to the team’s success any way he can and let the likes of Purser, Lochlan Cummings, Ryan Smith, Brian Carlwell and even youngsters Cooper Hamilton and Mitch Clarke get the glory.
“I’m glad I can still have a positive impact that’s for sure, if I wasn’t contributing anything I definitely wouldn’t want to be out there,” Cassir said.
“Honestly it was such a team effort last week and there’s so much focus on guys like Lochie, Ben, Smithers and BC that it makes it easy for me to step up and do some little things because they are so worried about stopping everyone else.
“I have definitely slowed down a lot but I guess the focus just changed to focus on doing the little things to help the team.
“I used to be very aggressive going to the rim all the time but now I pick and choose my times a bit more carefully. I try to put in even more effort diving on the loose balls and things like that to do whatever I can to help the team however I can.”
It has been a tremendous performance by Perry Lakes to have reached the club’s first Grand Final since 2011 as well especially with the constant hurdles thrown in their way including losing Jacob Holmen in Game 1 of the semi finals against the Rockingham Flames.
But to bounce back and win Games 2 and 3 is something Cassir was proud of his team for and especially for them to overcome all those hurdles and make up for three years of disappointment in the first round to now reach a Grand Final.
“I was stoked that we got through and everyone was up and about, and the whole team was pretty excited. That first game was a bit tough and we lost Jacob early in the first quarter, and we kind of looked a little lost but we focused our training during the week and executed what we wanted, and got it done,” Cassir said.
“Trust is a big thing us and the trust we have in this whole group is a big factor with everyone buying into our processes and what we’re trying to achieve. It’s awesome to have everyone on the same page and it’s awesome to see even the young fellas stepping up with the guys we have missing. It has just been a huge effort by everyone.
“The last few years we’ve finished and have done a great job of pushing the top team in the first round of the finals but we never quite got there. Every year we had some sort of injury and this year is no different. We’ve had injuries, but the belief in this group is the big thing and the trust in each other has helped us to overcome that and be where we are.”
While it’s always a team’s goal to be playing for a championship at the start of any season, Cassir is certainly proud that his group at the Hawks for the fight they’ve shown to now have got there after everything they have endured.
“It’s huge for us to be here. This is obviously the goal every year and everyone has bought in this year and I feel like we are on the right track,” he said.
“From the start of the year our goal was to win and I don’t think any team goes into a season aiming for lower than that. But around that mid-point of the season when we really turned things around, that’s when it really sunk in that we were a chance of doing something this year and it was more than just a hope.”
Given everything he’s had to battle through during his career, Cassir won’t yet let himself think about what it would mean to hold up that championship trophy on Saturday night.
“You just try to focus on the process of getting it done and you don’t want to worry about the result, you want to worry about how together,” Cassir said.
“We’ll just focus on everything we need to execute and if we happen to win, then we can worry about what it feels like to hold up that trophy.”