AFTER two years helping build the South West Slammers back up in the Women’s SBL, Nathan Grover is excited at his first crack as a head coach and he’s making no secret of his goal of reaching the finals in 2019.
Grover only just missed out on the Slammers job back when Peter Harper was appointed ahead of the 2017 season, but he joined the club as Harper’s assistant and together they’ve worked hard on building them back up the past two years.
That was always with a vision of Grover taking over the helm from Harper at some stage and that time is now as he begins his head coaching journey with the Slammers on the upward trajectory having won four more games in 2017 than 2016, and then another three last year.
They narrowly missed finals in 2018 and now that is Grover’s goal in 2019 with a group that has added Makailah Dyer to the backcourt and Brittni Montgomery to the frontcourt while also welcoming back championship winner Bianca Donovan.
With the retention of Courtney Bayliss, Kate Fielding and a promising bunch of emerging talent as well, Grover is looking at big things from the Slammers this season.
“We were so close to finals last year just missing out by percentage and we haven’t had a winning season since winning the title in 2012. The draw is pretty favourable for us as well and I think we’re one of the few teams to have both imports to start the year,” Grover said.
“Looking at the draw, I think we have a real opportunity to get some early wins on the board when the last couple of years I think we’ve started 0-4 both times and have had to play catch up.
“If we can put ourselves in a good position after about Round 8 it will look very positive for us before we start to hit some strong teams that will be full strength. I definitely think we have the manpower and capability to make finals this year and that’s the No. 1 goal.
“There’s no other expectation I put on myself other than to just make the finals. We’ve built progressively from two wins in 2016 to six and then nine.
“Pete worked really hard getting a good group together and building their confidence, and a core together and now we look to build on that and blend in some more of the younger girls. I think we definitely can shake it up a bit this year.”
While there are significant changes to the South West roster for 2019 with last year’s imports Charlotte Van Kleef and Tori Fisher not returning while Georgia Denehey and Tayah Burrows both moved up to Perth from Bunbury, Grover likes the additions.
Grover is especially excited with what Brittni Montgomery brings and he will be looking for the 6’3 forward from North Carolina who went to college at Central Florida to have a significant impact inside for the Slammers, and to provide a point of different to most other frontcourts.
“I think we’ve got ourselves a real genuine back to the basket player which in my opinion the SBL doesn’t have a lot of on the women’s side. The league doesn’t have too many genuine post players, we seem to be a fast and small league,” Grover said.
“Brittni’s going to add a real different aspect to not only what team we put out on the floor, but to the league as well. I think she’s going to cause a few teams some hassles in the low post.
“She’s strong, she seals really well under the basket and is very hard to get around – which I’ve found out myself at training. Having her in the low post is going to cause some defensive match up issues for teams but it also stretches us out because we have a few threats on the outside as well.”
The Slammers’ other import is no stranger to the SBL with Makailah Dyer having played with the Redbacks in 2018 and being a key member of that team that finished the regular season in second place and went to Game 3 of the semi finals against Mandurah Magic.
Dyer had a good season too putting up 13.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game but what she expressed a desire to do more of was running the point.
Grover is more than open to allowing her to do that and is looking forward to what the results from it are.
“It’s really helpful knowing that she knows what the league is all about. I spoke to her pretty quickly after season’s end about coming down to Bunbury. With us losing Georgia and Tayah to free up the point guard spot, that’s her natural role and what she wants to do,” he said.
“She didn’t get too much of an opportunity to do that at the Redbacks last year where she played more as a wing, but she was the perfect fit for us and I thought we could give her the opportunity to get back into her comfort zone.
“She has welcomed that already and you can just tell that her confidence has changed from being in that role and not having to worry about shooting as much because she gets to create. Her shooting has improved as well, though, and I think her numbers will be on the up from last year.”
Another signing for Slammers is no stranger with 2012 championship winner Bianca Donovan returning having spent the past three seasons at the Redbacks, including as a teammate to Dyer in 2018.
She played the first 104 of 177 SBL games with the Slammers up until the end of 2015 and now Grover couldn’t be happier to have her experience and leadership back with the group.
“Just her leadership and experience alone is huge for the younger girls that we’ve got coming through. I’ve watched her for a couple of years now and I know how tenacious she is out on the floor and her defence and enthusiasm out there is pretty good for the young girls to feed off,” Grover said.
“Coming back home to Bunbury is great for her too and I think she’ll enjoy being back closer to her family and back playing with some of the girls she played with in her younger years. Her influence with her experience and leadership is already showing for us.”
There’s plenty of experience for Grover to have at his disposal this season too with Kate Fielding changing her mind on retirement and committing to play again in 2019 while Courtney Bayliss is back too 10 games shy of racking up 200 games in the SBL.
“She was a bit unsure at the end of last year but with some changes we’ve had with personnel and signing Courtney as well helped big time,” Grover said.
“Kate will help me out as a second assistant this year as well and she’s taking charge of our under-18 girls as well so she’s really stepping up into more of a leadership-coaching role which is huge.
“She seems reinvigorated by some of the changes at the club and the fact that we only just missed out on the finals last year so she’s tempted to see how we go this year. I also think if we go well this year that she’ll hopefully play on beyond that too.”
While the pre-season might seem to last a long time in the middle of summer, the season proper is now ahead of Grover and having put together a squad he’s happy with for his first season in charge, he’s looking forward to getting things underway.
“It’s come around pretty quickly actually and it’s been a really good pre-season,” he said.
“We’ve put a fair bit of work in the past few months and since stepping into the role nothing has changed for me too much except that there’s a bit more detail in what I have to plan and prepare as opposed to being an assistant coach along with the personnel side and getting the side together.
“Outside of that, not too much has changed and it’s the same sort of preparation leading into the start of the season.
“We struggle a little bit with numbers during the pre-season with girls having other commitments but otherwise it’s still a pretty heavy workload whether you are an assistant coach or head coach. I’m just fortunate enough now to take the reins and put my own plans into action.”
Grover made the move to the Slammers for the 2017 season on the back of working with the Cockburn Cougars and while he is the youngest coaching in the league in 2019, he feels that his apprenticeship will hold him in good stead heading into his first season in charge.
“This will be my sixth year coaching in the league and after five years under my belt as an assistant it’s taught me a hell of a lot and this is definitely what I’ve been working towards,” Grover said.
“I missed out on the role when Pete Harper took over but the club wanted to have me down to assist him which was great with the view of stepping into this role after Pete.
“There’s no better time than now for me after five years in the league where I’ve worked under some great coaches who have taught me a lot. It’s a combination of everything that I’ve been taught and learned that makes it time now to put it into action.”
Grover also has no doubt that having spent the past two years already with the Slammers and building up that chemistry and understanding with the players, from the experienced Fielding right down to the youngsters like Adele East is the ideal grounding to now take over as head coach.
“It helps a lot having been here for a couple of years. I’ve built a great relationship with the girls now and the club is taking a great turn into a real positive light this year with a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” he said.
“It really is an exciting time for us in Bunbury and the club is turning a corner into an exciting year on the court and behind the scenes from board level down. The club has been fantastic to me and my family the last couple of years, and we feel like we’ve found a second home.
“They have been really welcoming of us and we couldn’t be happier with the move and to stay there for at least the next couple of years and hopefully longer. We have a great bunch of people working really hard to get ourselves into a positive situation this year going forward.”
While Grover is excited and looking forward to the season-opener on Saturday against at Eaton Recreation Centre against the East Perth Eagles, he’s got no doubt the nerves will really kick in when game day rolls around.
“The first game at home definitely helps, that will probably settle the nerves a bit more than if we played away from home. I’ve been thinking about this first game for a long, long time now and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Grover said.
“But the nerves will probably kick in Saturday morning when I wake up and realise it’s game day. We’ll work pretty hard this week and iron out some kinks that we saw at Blitz to get ready. We know East Perth will come out full of energy and pressure.
“They’ve had their struggles but we definitely aren’t taking them for granted. They will throw everything at us and they have a lot to play for as do we. We’ll prepare the best I can and I feel like we’re ready, but I might be feeling different Saturday morning.”