THE Rockingham Flames were within one basket of potentially going to the Men’s SBL Grand Final in 2018, but new head coach Ryan Petrik doesn’t expect to pick up the momentum and instead is focused on building something new with a group he couldn’t be happier with.
Petrik is no stranger to the Flames obviously having previously spent four years as assistant coach to the men’s team before taking on the head coaching role with the women and overseeing a supremely successful era including championships in 2014 and 2015.
He was Coach of the Year too in 2012 leading the Flames women into the Grand Final but he had always wanted to coach the Rockingham men at some point and now everything came together to make that happen in 2019.
He’s taking over a Flames team that beat the minor premier Geraldton Buccaneers in two games of the quarter finals last year before only losing in a tight and tense three games to the Perry Lakes Hawks in the semi finals.
That’s the good news when Petrik reflects on the team of last year that he now takes over.
But he’s realistic enough to also know that it was a team that finished the regular season eighth with a 12-14 record so he is fully aware there is plenty of work required if they are to try and replicate where they ended up last year.
Personnel-wise there’s reason for Petrik to be optimistic with Greg Hire retained once his last NBL season concludes and Josh Ritchart returning along with Chudier Pal while Caleb White and former Perth Wildcats captain Brad Robbins are among the other arrivals.
But he’s not shying away from the work ahead to get the group to where he wants them.
“It’s a glass half full and half empty type of thing. If you take the glass half full and they were moments away from a Grand Final and have got Greg Hire and two quality imports,” Petrik said.
“But glass half empty is that they finished eighth in the regular season and still lost more games than they won. They even gave up 102 points in Game 3 of the semi finals to Perry Lakes who were missing their best player so how close were they really.
“So those two viewpoints are the polar opposite. We certainly think they are closer to the team that was close to the Grand Final than what finished eighth, but they really are night and day. It will be interesting to see how we fit together when the real stuff starts.
“People automatically expect you can go on with the team that almost made the Grand Final, but then you sit back and think of the mess the team was at times in-season and there were some ugly losses in there.
“There were reasons for it, but they did finish at 12-14 so it wasn’t as if they were a dominant team. They just scraped into the playoffs so there is a lot to fix and we’ve gone back to basics with a lot of it. The boys have been great with that too. They want to do the work to fix it so they’ve given me an ear which is all I can ask.”
When Petrik was appointed coach of the Rockingham men, he gave his assistant coach Andrew Cooper the job to find him a 6’7 shooting guard with NBA G-League experience.
To say he’s happy with the result of Caleb White is a great understatement, albeit he’ll wait for his final judgement until the season proper starts.
“He can flat out ball. I’ve only seen him for a week because last week I was off on my honeymoon but he couldn’t have been more impressive in that week I saw him,” Petrik said.
“He showed glimpses at the Blitz that he could really be something special and then the reports from training last week from Andrew Cooper was that he’s already gone to another level. He’s had three NBA G-League stints and Coops found him so he deserves all credit.
“He’s a lefty who can shoot it and he came with glowing reports from the Minnesota Timberwolves and obviously if he’s sniffing around the G-League he has talent.
“He’s just a worker, he’s a hustler and is ultra-coachable who wants to do whatever he can to win. We have to temper that until the season starts but we’re very happy with what we’ve seen so far.”
Rockingham’s second import is a familiar face. Josh Ritchart was looking good in the first 11 games of last season with 23.9 points and 6.6 rebounds a game while shooting at 53.4 per cent from the field and 41.9 per cent from downtown as a stretch four.
When it came down to it, it was an easy call for Petrik to want him back.
“You try to do your due diligence and I got the job and Coops straightaway had a spreadsheet however many pages deep of imports in every position and who we should and shouldn’t look at,” Petrik said.
“But the more we talked about it, everything kept coming back to saying it had to be Josh. In the end, we decided there was nothing to talk about.
“Everyone loves him, he’s an MVP-calibre player, he’s a modern stretch four who can shoot and he’s deceptively quick and mobile for his size, and is a deceptively great shot blocker. So we went and signed him, and it was a really easy decision eventually. He can’t wait either to get going again.”
The signing of Robbins is a fascinating one for the Flames too. The 34-year-old played the last of his 215 NBL games in 2015 and has most recently been coaching with the Joondalup women, but he was enticed to play again by Hire and Petrik is expecting him to have a significant impact.
“It’s an interesting one because I spent the best part of the last two years coaching against him because Craig Friday wasn’t there all the time with the Joondalup women. Then going back further when I was at the Wildcats, he was co-captain and now here I am coaching him,” Petrik said.
“He is a ripper bloke first and foremost and his IQ is off the charts. All the guys love him, he fit straight into the group and defensively he is unbelievable.
“There’s no rush with him and the finals are in August as I keep saying, but he is at another level defensively already. He is so smart and strong for his size, and hasn’t lost anything. He is 6kg lighter now than when he was with the ‘Cats so he looks a million dollars.”
Petrik is also excited to see what Hire can produce with the Flames once his NBL commitments with the Wildcats finish and he wouldn’t be surprised to see something reminiscent of Aaron Trahair in 2007 of Shawn Redhage in 2017.
“I always remember Aaron Trahair’s season with Rockingham straight out of the NBL and the same with Shawn Redhage at the Redbacks, those guys come out brilliant because their pre-season has been an NBL season,” he said.
“So we know we are going to get a good season out of Greg and the added bonus this time is that he won’t have the added commitments at the Wildcats and off the court yanking him a million different directions.
“I’ve tried to leave him alone the best I can because he clearly has bigger fish to fry right now but he is fully invested. He is desperate to stay involved and is helping out with whatever he can.
“Then when he eventually finishes up at the Wildcats, we know we are going to get a guy completely invested in our program which is great.”
As for himself, it’s been quite the past six months for Petrik since his Flames women lost their quarter-final series to the Mandurah Magic after finishing third at the end of the regular season.
He was part of another WNBL season with the Perth Lynx as lead assistant coach to a playoff team while also stepping in to coach the Rockingham men, continuing to work full-time and also getting married within the past month to Chelsea (nee Armstrong).
“I hadn’t quite thought of it like that because I’ve been tied up with WNBL commitments, have been getting things in place for the SBL season and then got married in between all of that too,” Petrik said.
“So there has been a lot going on and there still is a lot going on, but I’m sure once the season starts everything will get into a bit of a groove even though now I’m still busy with WNBL because free agency starts on Tuesday and our Rockingham team is about to start up in Geraldton this week, and the working year has been a bit hectic.
“But I signed up for all of it so no excuses and no complaints.”
As for taking over as the Rockingham men’s coach, it’s something that Petrik initially thought might have happened sooner but he wouldn’t change anything in the end about the journey to now be in the seat.
“Having been the men’s assistant for four years, the plan was for me to only be with the women short-term and to end up as the men’s head coach. But I was only a pup at the time when I went over to the women’s where the plan was to win a championship with Kaye Tucker and then I’d move back,” he said.
“That was 2014 and then one thing after another kept stopping it happening and I was really happy coaching the women, and it ended up being 10 years. I’ve started having some of the ex-men’s players I coached saying I had to get back to the men’s team and even Chelsea was telling me it was time.
“So when Warren told me Brad (Samuelson) hadn’t reapplied for the job, I told him I would and it went from there. I put together a pros and cons list of coaching both programs and I still do love that women’s program, but the pros list on the men’s side was ridiculous. I felt I had to do it and that was it.”
Petrik’s tenure coaching the Flames women now starts with the trip to Geraldton on Saturday night but it’s a journey to hold fond memories for the members of the team that won Game 2 at Active West Stadium in last year’s quarter finals to wrap up the series.
“It’s a trip I haven’t had to make for 10 years and I might have liked a bit of an easier start to the season than Geraldton Week 1 and Perry Lakes Week 2, but we are going to the minor premier’s house first and then champions house second,” Petrik said.
“It is what it is and obviously Greg will be off playing in a bigger series, but we are still going to go up there and have a swing as I’m sure Geraldton will want to have a swing at us after we knocked them out.
“I know a lot of people are excited and are travelling up from Rockingham just because there’s a fair bit of hype around this team. It should be fun.”