COMBINING the pain of going close for several years now but falling short and the desire to still win that elusive championship is a juggling act for returning Geraldton Buccaneers coach Dayle Joseph, but he has also put in plenty of work to fix up areas that might have led to them falling short.
It’s hard to say the Buccs don’t continue to be one of the most successful clubs in the SBL year after year, it’s just that they haven’t been able to add a championship to the one won in 2000 despite continuing to go ever so close.
Again it looked like 2018 might have been their year with the Buccaneers claiming the regular season championship, but they ran into an experienced, focused and ferocious Rockingham Flames led by NBL veterans Greg Hire and Kevin White in the quarter finals ending their playoff run early.
The absence of club legend Mat Wundenberg through injury certainly hurt too, but it left a sour taste in the mouth of the Buccs with hopes high that this would be their year after a Grand Final appearance in 2014, semi-final berths in 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2016, and quarter finals in 2013 and 2015.
It’s a sustained run of being a strong contender without quite getting over the line and having been a championship winner himself as a player during his 412-game SBL career, Ray Evans decided to step aside.
Geraldton has gone back a familiar face with Joseph taking over again as head coach in a role he filled back in 2002 and 2003.
A lot of the core group is returning led by veterans Wundenberg and Aaron Ralph along with Liam Hunt, James Paringatai, Marcus Alipate and import Colter Lasher are all back too with the arrivals of new import forward Willie Conner, New Zealand’s Brayden Inger and Brendan Dinardo from East Perth.
So with the personnel similar and the drive to get that elusive championship remaining strong, what Joseph has focused on over the summer is how to make this group that little bit better to get over the hump.
“I haven’t approached it at all as such, we’ve come in with a view that we are looking ahead. But what we did do was identify what went wrong and that’s a big thing that we worked out in terms of some of our weaknesses,” Joseph said.
“That required asking some questions of ourselves and the players, and in some cases oppositions teams and coaches to get some feedback of what they saw in us as well.
“We’ve accumulated that information and have identified things we need to get better at, and try to move forward with that. I don’t feel we’ll be out for revenge or anything like that and we are really focused on getting better at the things we weren’t great at.”
It’s been a long time between coaching stints at the Buccs for Joseph but he has remained in touch since stepping down in 2003 as an assistant both in 2015 and 2018.
He always felt he wanted to have another crack at the head coaching role, but wasn’t sure if 2019 was the right time.
However, when Evans stood down and then his wife Tanya and their children Dempsey, River and Chase gave him the all clear, he put his hand up and is now looking forward to what lies ahead.
“I did think I’d want another go at it but over the years I’ve had to focus on my family, but they have now got a little bit older and don’t want so much of my time,” he said.
“So that’s freed up a bit of time I can put back into coaching again. I thought it might have still been a year or two away, but with the family’s support they encouraged me to take the opportunity while it was there. So now I’m back into it.
“I’m working full-time as well combined with the basketball makes it a little more difficult to do the home chores that are necessary on a daily basis, but I’m lucky enough to have the support of my family that we can make it work. It’s a lot of hard work, I’m not going to lie, but we’re all working together to make it work.”
Given they finished on top of the ladder last year and were perhaps unlucky to come up against not your usual No. 8 seed from the Flames and were missing their heart and soul Wundenberg, there’s little reason for Joseph to come in and change too much.
He’s happy to back in a similar playing group to have another crack at the ultimate prize.
“Obviously we’ve got some of the main core coming back with our local guys who are still very desperate to experience that success,” Joseph said.
“So we continually strive to put something together that we feel will put us in a position to challenge. I guess you never know how that is going until you are in the middle of the season and can assess where you’re at, and we will do the same this year.
“We feel we’ve got a good group of guys together with our imports just arriving last week. Our ultimate goal is to still win that championship.”
It would be a strange sight to see the Buccaneers playing without both or either of Wundenberg and Ralph and that won’t be happening in 2019 with both committing to at least one more season.
They have combined for 775 games with Geraldton and are the closest of mates, and Joseph couldn’t be happier to have them back.
“They are leaders in their own right and are leading the charge, and setting the example for us,” he said.
“Neither of them miss a training session or ever have an excuse not to train, but in some cases we are mindful of their ages and bodies also. We are working towards to making sure they are ready for the season and not to burn them out so they are firing when we need them most as well.”
Liam Hunt is also back for a second season, and his first full season, as he follows on from the legacy his 382-game father Dan built while Colter Lasher is back for a second season too.
Joseph hasn’t been shy about being forward in asking for more from both in 2019.
“Liam is looking pretty good. He has been back for a couple of weeks now and has had a few sessions, and he has that natural passion for basketball that takes him where he needs to be. He’ll work hard enough to get himself into a place where he is going to be giving our team what we need from him,” Joseph said.
“I think it’s a big thing for us that Colter is coming back for a second season. I spoke with him in the off-season before we re-signed him and I was asking for a little bit more out of him than what we got last year.
“He felt that was something he could do so he is on board and is happy to take on a bigger role for us to take his game to another level. Now that he knows what he’s about and understands the league, he feels he can contribute a little bit more to our team so we are looking forward to seeing what that brings for us.”
One new face for the Buccs will be import forward Willie Conner. The 25-year-old 6’5 forward comes to Geraldton having attended both Florida A & M the University of Buffalo.
He is looking to this Buccs stint to jumpstart his professional career and Joseph is expecting big things of him.
“Willie comes with great character by the sounds of it and he sounds like a really nice guy, and says all the right things. I spoke to his college coach who said we would get nothing but energy and that he would do whatever was required,” he said.
“We hear he can pretty much guard anyone from one to four for us and he’s a scorer, a team first player and that he has the ability to be our best defender.
“That’s what we are looking for, that’s why we recruited for him and if he can work at both ends and score, he can fit into our system and more importantly he knows how to defend.”
Now that the season is closing in with the SBL Blitz at Warwick Stadium this weekend and three weeks from the Buccs’ season-opener at home to the Flames on Saturday March 16, Joseph finds himself getting excited.
“I’m actually pretty excited,” Joseph said.
“We had our first sessions this past weekend with just about our full squad so that’s pretty exciting and it gives us the opportunity to review everything we’ve been working on through the off-season with our local players and bring our imports into what we’re trying to achieve.
“We had a couple of long sessions to get everyone on the same page, then on Wednesday we’ll be on the court again to fine tune things and then we will try to put it all into place at the Blitz.”