PERRY Lakes Hawks coach Matt Parsons wants his championship-winning players to savour the raising of the banner on Friday night to open the SBL season but then quickly turn focus to job at hand and he has reason to be optimistic with the squad he has assembled.
Parsons was in his second season at the helm of the Hawks in 2018 and after leading them to a fourth-place finish at the end of the regular season, he led them to playoff series wins over Lakeside and Rockingham before a stirring Grand Final victory over the Joondalup Wolves.
That marked the first Men’s championship for Perry Lakes since the last of four straight in 2004 while a second in three years for Parsons after he also took the Cockburn Cougars to the promised land in 2016.
Perry Lakes were clicking on all cylinders in the back end of the 2018 season leading into the playoffs and then during them despite losing the experience and quality of Dan Thomas and Jacob Holmen along the way.
There’s reason for Parsons to think he has a stronger squad, at least on paper, now coming into this season with the recruitment of Kyle Sovine and Tevin Jackson with Thomas to return and still room to bring in a second import with Brian Carlwell now qualifying to play as a local.
With championship-winning stars Ben Purser, Rob Cassir, Lochlan Cummings and Ryan Smith back to the lead the way as well with the support of Travis Hayto, Cooper Hamilton, Bailey Cole-Heath, Mitch Clarke and Jordan Hickert, you can see why Parsons is comfortable with his squad.
The Hawks’ championship defence begins on Friday night at Bendat Basketball Centre against the Wolves with Parsons looking forward to enjoying the celebrations pre-match.
Two years ago, he was part of Perry Lakes when Cockburn raised its banner at Wally Hagan Stadium on an eventful night.
Parsons is glad to be part of the team celebrating this time around and wants his players to soak up the occasion to reflect on their achievements of 2018 before quickly looking ahead to what 2019 entails.
“Personally I’m really looking forward to being on the home side of that and to not bring a visiting team into that environment like a couple of years ago. But each time you win a championship it’s something special and will sit with you forever,” Parsons said.
“You look back with reflection and really enjoy it the further it gets away from having happened. In terms of 2018, the guys will really take joy in the moment of reflecting on it and we really haven’t talked about the championship at all during the pre-season.
“We’ve set our goals to move forward and not reflect back too much, but this will be one moment where they can let their guard down and take it in. It’s really important that they do that because you have to celebrate success.
“There’s a lot of history at the club and there’s been so much written about the successes of John Gardiner and the previous era of the Hawks and now these guys have been able to write their own little bit of history in a club that’s rich with it.
“They have to appreciate that and these moments allow for that. It’s a great, humbling feeling that the boys have to appreciate and then move on from because the first buzzer of the season will happen five minutes later.”
Parsons isn’t quite sure he would have chosen a Grand Final rematch with the Wolfpack to open the season while they raise the championship banner, but that’s out of his control.
His two championships came with Grand Final wins over Joondalup with Parsons holding tremendous respect for Ben Ettridge and his team. He certainly doesn’t want to give them any more ammunition on Friday night or for all of 2019.
“Part of me as a coach thinks that it could have been somebody else and you don’t really want to stir up a hornet’s nest if you don’t need to,” he said.
“But at the end of the day it was out of our control and the league decided that’s who they wanted us to play and we have to play whoever’s in front of us. We respect them as a club and we know that they’ve been the pinnacle of this league for many years.
“As much as it is our night, we’re still aspiring for that sustained success that they’ve been able to have over a number of years so for us it’s about establishing us and in a sense we’re still chasing them.”
The key to most championship defences is retaining the core of the group that took you to the title and without question for Parsons that has been the most pleasing aspect of the off-season.
The fact that Sovine and Jackson are strong inclusions is a bonus, but bringing the core group back to set the standard for those arrivals are what he is happiest about.
“It was very important that we retained as much of the squad as we could and we’ve been able to do that,” Parsons said.
“You don’t win championships without having other clubs looking through the window to see what’s going on but we were able to keep our players and they’re a great bunch of guys who wanted to come back and feel the success of what this group potentially could do.
“We’ve also added some pretty key pieces. We’ve lost Holmen obviously but we’ve added Tevin and Kyle, and both those guys fit our program really well and are team-first guys.
“They aren’t bringing in an existing ego and they are pushing the other guys to get better, and the other guys are pushing them to say this is the standard set and they have to reach that.
“Both groups are set for the challenge and are pushing each other to a high level which is good as the coach to sit back and see happening.”
What the additions of Sovine and Jackson provide for Parsons is an impressive frontcourt when they are added to the likes of Carlwell, Hickert and even Purser which he’s looking forward to seeing in action.
“There’s a couple of different gears that we have there in terms of versatility and some of the things that we can show on the court. That’s probably something that we haven’t really had at a sustainable level with the injuries we’ve had,” Parsons said.
“But we’ve filled the holes we thought we had and we think Kyle is going to be a very good decoy for BC and Tevin. He can do a little bit of everything and we know that Tevin in transition is probably as good as there is in the league.
“Jordie Hickert has had a full pre-season too which is something he hasn’t achieved in five years since he got back from college so he is playing like he’s 22 again and that’s really exciting. BC himself has done a tremendous amount of work both on his body and mind in the off-season and we might see an even better version of BC this year.”
With a frontcourt featuring Carlwell, Sovine, Jackson and Hickert, a backcourt of Cassir, Cummings, Smith and Clarke, and then Purser in that three man role with support from the likes of Thomas, Cole-Heath, Hamilton and Hayto in varied roles, a second import hasn’t been signed yet.
There’s no obvious area there that the Hawks need to add an import to so Parsons and the club will wait to see how the group goes early in the season and then decide on the type of player they still need to add, if they need to add anyone else at all.
“We’ll probably look at the group existing as it is at the moment and we might play around with what gaps there might be as the season rolls on,” Parsons said.
“Having the flexibility of being able to pull the trigger on a position like that is kind of low-risk for the most part because you can fill a hole that opens up as you go. We will look at it but we won’t put an emphasis on rushing the decision and we’ll give our guys every chance they can to be successful.
“We’ll liaise with the group and let them own that a little bit and we’ll play with it from there. It’s definitely at the front of our mind but we won’t pull the trigger on anybody and it will have to be someone who brings value to the existing group.”
Parsons doesn’t see any reason for Perry Lakes to feel any added pressure coming into the 2019 season as champions, but he does feel that within the group they have now set a high standard for themselves that they won’t accept anything except living up to and building upon.
“I think it’s more internal pressure than anything. I don’t think it’s something that anyone else is putting on us and in a lot of ways both championships I’ve won were unexpected, but especially last years came with a bit of an underdog status,” he said.
“We know there’s room to improve and it wasn’t as though we went 26-0 and won every game last year. We had our trials and tribulations as the season went on with some heartache with injuries and stuff.
“We worked through that adversity and the excitement for the boys of knowing we are very good at our best means they work very hard to make sure they give themselves that chance again if they put the work in.”
The summer wasn’t massively different for Parsons and the Hawks either coming off the championship, but he does feel a strong desire within everyone involved with the group to push themselves to achieve more success.
“Not a lot changes over pre-season really, but you do consider workload particularly with such a vast array of players doing different things over the off-season,” Parsons said.
“We do put a bit of an emphasis on making sure the guys do get a bit of extra rest if need be as long as they are doing the work we require of them. But for the most part the group’s been together for an extended period of time no different to any other season and we’ve been working on those little things to make sure we’re getting better.
“Habitual stuff held us up last year when we needed it but it was pretty bad at times as well. We’ll continue to try and explore how we can get better and there’s obviously some huge room for improvement.
“The guys have been really excited and have hit the ground running since pre-season has been underway. They don’t take any outside motivation, it’s all internal for them and the group themselves drives the outcome which they are doing a really good job of.”