THE Rockingham Flames might have a new coach in the Women’s SBL in 2019 but all signs point to quite an impressive group that Craig Reynolds has at his disposal for his first crack at life as a head coach.
The end of the 2018 season brought about a close to quite the successful era for the Flames women under Ryan Petrik that included two championships from three Grand Final appearances.
Petrik won’t be lost to Rockingham as he begins a new era coaching the men’s team in 2019, but it’s a new coach for the women. For Reynolds it’s his dream job in charge of the Flames after quite an apprenticeship through various ranks of basketball in WA.
As Reynolds embarks on his first season coaching in the SBL, it’s going to be quite the frontcourt he has to work with led by WNBL pair Darcee Garbin and Maddie Allen with new arrival Christina Boag the third member of what he sees as the most imposing wall in the competition.
The backcourt hasn’t been forgotten either with the additions of Tayah Burrows and Paris Duffield as the Flames look to again emerge as a championship contender after a disappointing playoff exit in 2018 despite being the higher seed against the Mandurah Magic.
With the knowledge that the club is providing him the resources to be successful, Reynolds is glad that is the case with the Flames but at the same time he knows that it’s on him to bring it all together under his new recruiting strategy to stay local with the restricted players.
“It’s better than being at other clubs where the coach has to recruit his own sponsorship and do a lot of things that take away the focus from coaching,” Reynolds said.
“But Warren (Boucaut) has just gone crazy in his support and there’s no reason for us not to succeed this year. We’ve got the talent, the facilities and now it’s on me to get it done.
“It’s an interesting recruiting strategy this year because I wanted to bring in extra size to help Maddie and we’ve gone with bringing in an extra two bigs. That should be a great wall that we have and I think we’ll be the biggest team in the competition.
“Chris can play outside, though, and she really relished the chance to play a wing position finally in a competition because she’d always been labelled an inside player. It gives us real flexibility and we showed that in a game we had against Lakeside. We have an advantage against teams with that third big position we’ve filled.”
The first vision Reynolds had when thinking about coaching the Flames in 2019 was attempting to bring back Garbin full-time.
She did return for a stint early last season and now coming off another strong WNBL season at the Townsville Fire and despite expected Opals duties along the way, he has secured her signature for the season.
There’s no doubt having Petrik still at the club and willing to help was a factor in him being able to secure the signature of Garbin too.
“I bounced ideas off him with recruiting and he helped me out where he could with some of the WNBL girls and looking at options that we had. He’s a valuable resource with his WNBL experience and I’ve got no doubt I will use him a lot throughout the year as we go forward,” Reynolds said.
“That was the first name that I had on my recruiting list was to get Darcee. From what I saw when we played them early last year, Darcee and Maddie just worked so well together and I thought if we could get that to happen again we’d be very strong.
“We wanted to bring Darcee back, she’s a club legend and has a huge following with the juniors as does Maddie.
“We wanted to go a different route this year to having Americans come in as imports so we knew their character was strong and build from that. We hope to build this group together for a few years now built around the Australian people.”
Allen, Garbin and Boag in a frontcourt is quite an impressive line-up for any SBL team but any bigs are only as good as their guards in a lot of ways and Reynolds is happy with his backcourt too.
Adding in the playmaking ability of Burrows from the Slammers and Duffield fresh off a championship with Lakeside is just what he was after.
“I’ve known Tayah for a couple of years through the state program and she’s a master of the pick and roll,” he said.
“I knew that with the way we were going to play, she would be a big benefit in that role so when I knew she was coming up to the city I wanted Rockingham to be the club she came to.
“And we needed three-point shooting and Paris brings that. That’s her role and she’s a veteran now, she’s won a championship and with the opportunity that she has I think she’ll go well.”
Reynolds has done an impressive apprenticeship ahead of now becoming a head coach in the Women’s SBL, but when thinking about taking on the main role one day, it was always at the Flames that he hoped that would happen.
He is coming off learning plenty working with Craig Mansfield in Lakeside’s championship last season, but ultimately it’s now a dream job for him to be coaching Rockingham.
“I’ve been around the SBL circles for a while with coaching various state teams and I had always wanted to have the opportunity to prove myself at the next level,” Reynolds said.
“I got the opportunity last year at Lakeside working with Craig Mansfield and got a really good grounding for what it takes to build a successful program. I took a lot of the good things out of that program into formulating my own plans if I became a coach.
“I’ve always said that there was really only one club that I wanted to put my hand up for and that was the Rockingham job. So when that came up I was excited to put my hand up and they saw faith in me.
“I’ve been around the club previously in various roles and it just felt like a really good fit being down there.
“Coming into the club there’s obviously big shoes to fill taking over from Ryan who has run a very successful program over a long period, but whilst it was daunting I knew the players were at a level to challenge for a championship with a winning and hard-working culture. That’s what excited me that it was a good opportunity to grasp.”
As for learning last year with the Lightning, Reynolds feels it was just the perfect way to finalise his preparation to be ready to take over a club in his own right.
“It was great to learn some of the procedures and steps you need to follow to be successful in terms of building up towards a championship,” he said.
“You don’t win it in the first few rounds, you have things that you work on throughout the year and a system of play that you keep building to where you want it to get to. Building that program at an SBL program that I saw Craig work on was something I learned a lot out of.”
The Flames begin their 2019 season with the Round 1 bye before hosting the Perry Lakes Hawks on Friday March 22. They also have a bye in Round 5 and that’s just fine for Reynolds as he looks to the opening of his head coaching career.
“I actually think we are lucky that we’ve only got four games in the first six weeks with two boys,” Reynolds said.
“That gives us a bit more of an extended pre-season, which we need because it’s a new system of play that I’ve brought in and the girls are doing well to pick it up.
“But we are still probably a little underprepared for the first few weeks, but the couple of byes in that period should mean we’re OK. But we are fit and healthy, and we’ll only miss Darcee and other than that we have a full squad ready to go.”