WITH no Jacob Holmen, Brian Carlwell will be asked to step up big time in the Grand Final for the Perry Lakes Hawks and is up for the task and after having a championship ring already, he’s ready to deliver on a promise to Ben Purser to help him win one.
Carlwell’s career as a pro began back in 2012 at the Cockburn Cougars where he was a dominant force in the championship winning team on the back of his college career ending before he expected at San Diego State University.
He had another year with the Cougars in 2013 as well before a stint in Japan that didn’t quite go to plan and then he took a break from the game before returning to the SBL this time with Perry Lakes for the 2016 season.
He has remained at the Hawks ever since and after experiencing two tough to stomach first round losses as the No. 8 seed the past two years, he couldn’t be prouder of his Perry Lakes team for now reaching Saturday night’s Grand Final against the Joondalup Wolves at Bendat Basketball Centre.
While Carlwell cherishes the championship from 2012 to start his post-college career, there’s no question that the journey he’s been on since would make another one mean all that more for a variety of reasons, none more so than he has a daughter to now share it with.
But one thing that stood out to Carlwell when he first arrived at Perry Lakes was the character and the remarkable drive to succeed of Ben Purser. He told him then he is deserving of a championship and hopes to help make that happen.
“Just because of everything that I’ve been through since then on a personal level and then even basketball-wise, and the fact that my daughter will be in the stands. I have a five-year-old that will be able to watch me so all of that is different now and I’m making sure I make the most of it,” Carlwell said.
“I have memories of that time at Cockburn but this will be a different set of memories that I’m building. Those are personal memories but this has a family aspect and it’s not just because of my daughter, but because I’ve been with these guys for three games straight now and I have great relationships with them.
“I remember the first year I came here I told Ben the reason I wanted another championship was for you and there’s no way a person like him, and the type of person he is off the court being a great guy and the player he is shouldn’t have a championship. If I can help make that happen it would be the perfect ending for me.”
The belief at the Hawks built all season especially with the 12-game winning run heading into the finals, but once Holmen went down in the opening game of the semi finals and they lost to Rockingham by 19 points, Carlwell knew it was time for the group to make a stand.
Rather than settle for the excuses they could have made, they dug deep and those two wins last weekend to reach the Grand Final are what he hopes can set the standard for a championship performance.
“It’s amazing just because of everything that goes into getting to the Grand Final, the whole team building process and the sacrifices you have to make for the team and others have to make for you,” he said.
“It all makes it worthwhile when you have the feelings like we did to actually play in a game like we did last week against Rockingham. That’s when the trust you have in each other shines through and it was like almost the perfect painting of the season with everything coming together at the right time.
“We all trusted each other and we did what we were supposed to do and the energy was flowing well. That’s what you play to experience and we are looking to recreate it just one more time, for one more game.”
Having been through those first round losses the past two years when they were likely playing their best basketball of the season in the quarter finals but just couldn’t quite beat the top seeds on the road in Game 3, Carlwell feels the key in 2018 was learning to go up another level.
Cockburn proved too strong back in 2016 at home in Game 3 and then so did Willetton last year, but Carlwell felt the key was for the Hawks to have the belief they could rise another level.
They did that in Games 2 and 3 against Rockingham last weekend, and he is looking forward to seeing them go up a gear again in the Grand Final.
“It’s just about realising that we were playing good and tough as a team the last three years in the playoffs, but it’s not good enough to go further and it was hard because of finishing where we did,” Carlwell said.
“People have to realise that that’s not a bad thing on us, but every team at some point has to learn how to take that next step and how to get over that hump.
“We just had to continue to play great basketball but realise we have to go to that next level because that’s what Willetton did to tie up that series last year in Game 2 and then beat us in Game 3.
“They found that next level and we know what that tastes like this year to get to the Grand Final, but we still have to find another level to win a championship.
“It was just about realising that we were still us and everything that we fought to build whether Jacob was on the court or off the court.
“Just because he’s out of the game that doesn’t give us the right to lose so just because he’s not there, that’s no excuse and it’s next man up. That’s the way we’ve practiced since we started pre-season last year and it finally showed itself and came through at the right time.”
Not only did Perry Lakes rise to another level last weekend as a team, but so did Carlwell personally to outplay Rockingham big Curtis Washington and deliver 19 points, his second highest tally of the season, to go with nine rebounds in the Game 3 triumph.
He was happy to be able to produce but knows it’s another challenge again in the Grand Final against the Wolves and the likes of Jalen Billups, Rob Huntington and Damian Matacz.
“It was a good feeling just because all year I’ve kind of been trying to find exactly where to fit in with this team and it’s been a bit of a struggle for myself,” he said.
“I’ve also been carrying around some injuries but that stuff doesn’t matter now, the thing that matters is finding a way to get it done. The fact that I was able to find a way on both ends of the floor that’s what was a great feeling in those two games.
“It’s a big challenge now in the Grand Final and I’m not saying that Rocko wasn’t a challenge, but the fact that I’ve been playing against these bigs from the Wolves for a long time now means that I’ve had battles with each one of them individually at different times.
“There’s no point where I go that I get to rest now whoever I’m going up against because they have three weapons in their bigs.
“It’s very tough but I look forward to that especially if we are allowed to play and we can bump and grind, and it’s not called a touchy game. I think we all enjoy that just from playing against all the guys. We can do that because we all have the right skills to do that and still play a good game.”
Aside from his brief stint in Japan, the SBL has been the only journey for Carlwell as a professional basketballer and the combination of the weather, the lifestyle and the basketball have all made it the perfect place for him to settle.
“It’s just a great place to play and you have people who are actually competitive, and the club aspect is one thing I love because people come through playing at the one club their whole lives,” he said.
“I love that lineage that comes with that and it’s great basketball being played over here. Then you have the weather that’s similar to San Diego so I feel like I’m back home a little bit.
“Before I first came here to play with Cockburn, I had never thought about Australia. I remember when the offer was first mentioned to me I didn’t take it seriously.
“When I first left college I was applying for a medical red shirt so I had intentions on going back to school for another year but that got denied by the NCAA about two weeks before the school year started so I was searching for opportunities.
“When this one came around I took it and once I looked it up and realised the weather was similar to San Diego, that’s what sold me. I came out here and fell in love with the place.”
The last piece for Carlwell to now feel at home in Australia is to get his permanent residency which he hopes could happen in time for 2019 and would only benefit Perry Lakes’ hopes of sustained success moving forward.
“I’m in the process of applying for permanent residency so hopefully that gets cleared up soon. I don’t know how long I’ll be here for, but I’ll definitely be here for some years to come,” Carlwell said.
“If that happens in time for next season, we can try to build a dynasty at this club and if that’s something I can be part of I’d love to do that.”