JUST weeks after thinking he was done for the season, Ryan Smith played a key role in helping the Perry Lakes Hawks to a first Men’s SBL Grand Final since 2011 but he knows the job is far from finished yet.
Having gone through the pain the past three seasons as part of Perry Lakes teams that finished eighth, pushed the top seeds to three games and ultimately just came up short on the road in Game 3, Smith always felt there was a different feeling about the 2018 season.
There have obviously been hurdles along the way with season-ending injuries to Travis Monroe, Dan Thomas and Jacob Holmen, plus a mid-season five-match losing run but the belief remained strong.
The Hawks turned that into a 12-game winning run entering the playoffs and then dominated the Lakeside Lightning winning Game 1 of the quarter finals 112-79 with Smith top-scoring with 22 points on 6/9 shooting from three-point range.
Smith was feeling right at the top of his game but then on the last training session before the second week of the quarter finals, he injured an ankle and was resigned to the fact his season would be over.
He then had to watch on as Lakeside won Game 2 at home forcing Perry Lakes to win at home the next Sunday afternoon to keep their season alive.
They were able to do that and then Smith even surprised himself by returning for the semi finals against the Rockingham Flames, but then he saw his team lose the opening game while losing Holmen to a knee injury in the process.
When the Hawks needed to find something, they did so last weekend beating the Flames twice to book in a spot in this Saturday night’s Grand Final against the Joondalup Wolves at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Smith was a huge factor in that too combining for 44 points and going 8/14 across the two nights to help the Hawks to their first Grand Final since 2011 as they attempt to win a first championship since 2004.
To now be preparing for a Grand Final is something Smith didn’t think he would be doing when he originally hurt his ankle, but even if he didn’t make it back he had full faith that his team would make it.
“When I did my ankle on this court on the Thursday before Game 2 against Lakeside, I thought I was done for the year,” Smith said.
“It was that bad and I thought I’d be sitting on the sidelines the whole time but after a bit of a chat with the physio and knowing what I could do and put up with pain-wise if I strapped it up really well, I thought I’d be able to shoot even if I couldn’t move too well. But I’ve come back a lot better than I thought to be honest.
“I seriously thought I was done and before that session we actually talked about training tonight like this is your last session of the year because it might have been. We were going pretty hard and it was in the last two minutes of the scrimmage that I did it.
“I was devastated for myself but I knew the team could still get it done without me. I was still going to hang around and be part of it all like Jacob is now, but I’m obviously glad to be back out on the court. Having said that, Jacob will be as big a part of this as anybody for helping us get here.
“DT (Dan Thomas) is similar and he brings that wisdom as an older player which he probably lacked. We didn’t have that veteran leader and he’s brought a lot to the club in terms of the way we approach everything.
“He is also good at challenging things Parsons says and I think that works well between them where before if Parsons said jump, we’d just say how high. Which was good but it’s good to have that elder who can provide a different perspective.”
The loss of Holmen and then losing comprehensively in Game 1 against the Flames might have appeared one blow too many for the Hawks to bounce back from in 2018, but nobody within the group was feeling like that.
They always felt once they corrected some things from Game 1 that they could bounce back and beat Rockingham twice last weekend to reach the Grand Final, and for that to actually happen in front of combined crowds of nearly 3000 people is something Smith loved being part of.
“On the Monday after Game 1 we sat down as a team and watched a bit of the film, and during the game it probably felt a lot worse than it actually looked on camera,” Smith said.
“There were a lot of things that wouldn’t take a lot to fix and we fixed them. That’s what happened last weekend and we put a plan together, and were able to execute it.
“It was a great feeling on Saturday and as a player, those are the games you want to play in. It was even so exciting to go down to Rockingham on Friday and I knew if we could get that one, then I reckon we’d have a really good chance back at home.
“Obviously the fans are great and in playoffs it’s what it’s all about and what you want to play in front of. I loved it.”
Take out Game 1 against Rockingham when Smith still wasn’t quite 100 per cent with his ankle and he has been in the best form of his career at Perry Lakes in the back half of the 2018 season.
Always a dangerous shooter, he’s turned himself into quite the weapon for the Hawks and over the past eight games aside from that Game 1, he is averaging 18.8 points on the back of shooting 34/61 from beyond the three-point arc.
That included 21 points in Rockingham last Friday and 23 at home on Saturday, but really he has such confidence in teammates like Mitch Clarke and Cooper Hamilton to deliver what he is if he wasn’t out there producing.
“In the system we have and the team we have with how deep we are, if I was out or not playing well honestly the kids would stand up and do what I’m doing,” he said.
“Since Jacob’s gone out people have had to step up and you can definitely see that across the board.
“Our team is that deep and obviously we have our stars but have unfortunately lost Jacob, but we have guys who can step into our system that we all trust to get it done. That’s what we pride ourselves on for being so deep.”
Smith feels the biggest difference for Perry Lakes in 2018 to the previous three years is that now when they get themselves into winning positions in important games, they are able to close it out and win rather than just coming up short.
That’s a big reason why they’ve now reached the Grand Final and while that’s a tremendous achievement, Smith knows the job isn’t done yet.
“The difference this year has been the trust in our system towards the end of games. Normally we could get to that point in games but not be able to close it out,” Smith said.
“Over those past four years, if we were close it would end up being a five-point loss. But now we have the personnel and we all trust each other, and the system and what everyone does. We can execute now when it matters.
“Obviously it feels great to get there but really we haven’t achieved anything that we set to do. We have set the goal to win a championship and over the last four years I’ve been here we have strived to do that but fallen short early in the playoffs each time.
“But to get to a Grand Final now obviously the feeling is great around the club and individually as well it’s great so it’s a good feeling. But we feel we have one more step to be able to achieve what we want.”
Smith is now looking forward to experiencing a Grand Final on Saturday night but he knows the Wolves are going to provide quite the obstacle to Perry Lakes celebrating a championship.
“I actually have booked in 19 tickets so I have a few mates coming so it will be exciting and it’s what you play for. Especially in basketball, it will be the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of so the adrenaline will be going but I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Smith said.
“They’ve got that experience and that’s obviously an advantage for them, and we are going in as underdogs, but I’ve got no issues with that.
“I feel like we can challenge them at every position and bring that grit that we know our group’s got. We’ve always been bitter rivals as clubs and the players but hopefully we come out on top this time.”