AS Kyle Armour prepares for his 200th game in the SBL on Friday night to open the 2019 season, he’ll be doing so in a Lakeside Lightning uniform after making the tough decision to change clubs in the off-season and sees no reason why it can’t be a winning and enjoyable move.
Armour grew up in Parkwood, a neighbouring suburb of Willetton, and grew up around the Tigers even making his debut as a 16-year-old back in 2006 so making the decision to leave at the end of 2018 was anything but an easy one.
Of Armour’s 199 games in the SBL, only 47 of them have been away from Willetton with 16 at Lakeside in 2011 as he returned from college and then 31 in the championship-winning 2014 season at East Perth, so to say the club is close to his heart is a significant understatement.
But nearing his 30th birthday, Armour knew he needed a change to rejuvenate his basketball career as hard as it was to leave Willetton. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense for Lakeside to become his new home.
Having played against Jack Isenbarger last season, he decided he’d much rather be on his team and then the chance to play alongside Jarrad Prue ahead of his 350th game for Lakeside in Friday’s season-opener was a chance too good to pass up.
With the added bonus of Michael Vigor crossing from the Perth Redbacks as well and then liking everything he heard from reigning Coach of the Year Dave Daniels, Armour saw no reason not to throw himself in fully to everything at the Lightning.
That now means first up that he notches his 200th SBL game this Friday night against the Mandurah Magic at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
Armour doesn’t so much differentiate his SBL career from the rest of his basketball journey, but what reaching 200 games in the league does do is provide a marker to reflect on getting to this point through the game and even on how it all started back with Game 1 way back in 2006.
“The 200-game milestone for me is a nice achievement, but it doesn’t really feel like a milestone because I look at my whole career together rather than just what I’ve done in the SBL and that means I’ve played well over 400 combined games from everywhere I’ve been,” Armour said.
“My first SBL game, I remember it like I was yesterday I was a 16-year-old kid playing for Willetton and Adam Caporn hurt his knee, Brad Robbins got hit by a screen from Tony Ronaldson and did his shoulder so basically there were no point guards left.
“I had Robbo on the sidelines giving me advice to help me out which was invaluable as a 16-year-old. Paul Rogers was even playing that game, so was Clint Read, Wayne Biddle, Greg Regan and guys I grew up watching.
“It was pretty awesome and I remember having 17 points and us beating Cockburn at home with 40 or 50 of my high school friends in the stands getting rowdy. That was pretty awesome.”
Now that Armour is settled at Lakeside and spent the summer there, he’s feeling right at home and energised ahead of the 2019 season especially given he’s been part of playoff teams at Willetton the past four years where a title, or at least a Grand Final berth, was within reach.
They lost to Grand Finalists South West Slammers in 2015 and Joondalup Wolves in 2016, the champion Perth Redbacks in 2017 and then Grand Finalists Wolfpack again in 2018 while amassing a regular season 65-39 record in those four seasons.
At this point in his career, Armour is all about winning and enjoying his basketball. He sees no reason both can’t happen with Lakeside.
“We’ve got another import, Jobi (Wall), as well who I think will surprise the league and I think we’ve got the ingredients there,” Armour said.
“It’s just about coming together and so far the synergy between the group is great even though we are a little bit light on at the moment with Vigor not here yet and Jack picking up a niggling injury. But when we do get our full healthy team together, we’re going to be a bit of a force to finish off the season.”
When he got to the end of the 2018 season, Armour felt like he needed something new and fresh in his basketball.
He definitely feels no hard feelings towards Willetton and hopes that is mutual, but he had to think about what was best for himself knowing that he’s closer to the end than the start of his career.
While he was stepping into the great unknown once he decided to leave the Tigers, Lakeside quickly became his obvious choice for a new home.
“After the season last year I was feeling as though my basketball career was getting a bit stale and I’m at that age where I focus more on my career and the life outside of basketball, but basketball still probably plays the most important role in my life,” Armour said.
“That’s where a lot of my friends came from and a lot of the relationships that I have. I told Steve that I wasn’t really enjoying myself and I wouldn’t be returning to Willetton a week after the season.
“That was a hard thing to do because Steve’s a good mate of mine and someone I respect, but with the style of play and how I see myself playing and enjoying the game, I thought I had to make the move.
“I clearly wanted to keep playing but I didn’t do where that would be and for me it was more about who you play with and who you’re playing for. In the off-season I was sussing out who I would want to play for and I thought to get the most out of myself and it kept coming back to Lakeside.”
Before Isenbarger horrifically broke his leg last year, he was finding his feet with the Lightning with the way he would run hard and all day off screens to get open to shoot and Lakeside was playing at such an exciting, up-tempo style that Armour couldn’t help but want to be part of that.
With that thought, plus the way he instantly developed a connection with coach Daniels and his desire to be the point guard to a frontcourt made up of Prue and Vigor all meant that it was an easy decision for Armour to sign up to the Lightning.
“I spoke to Dave, from playing against Jack last year with that quick style and I wanted to be part of that and that was quite appealing for me. Then there’s Prue and who doesn’t want to play with the ‘Chairman’,” he said.
“He’s just a freak talent and an even better bloke. So I thought this was a pretty good foundation to build on and then you have young guys like Rowan Mackenzie, Nick Palleschi and hopefully Corey Shervill when he comes back.
“Then I spoke with Michael Vigor as well and we were both in a similar position nearing the end of our careers and just looking to play where we enjoy our basketball. This gives us a chance to catch up a lot more through basketball and that’s more or less how I ended up at Lakeside.
“I’m good friends with assistant coach Lennon Smart too and between knowing him and hearing Dave out, it was a no-brainer for me in the end when I broke it down to just the basketball.”
What the 200-game SBL milestone does provide for Armour is a chance to reflect on his entire basketball journey to get to this point.
He first started playing basketball aged five and was playing in the SBL by the time he was 16 before earning an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship where his battles with Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova will stick with him for a lifetime.
That led to a rough first initiation to the NBL at the soon-to-fold Sydney Spirit, but it did form his lasting bond with coach Rob Beveridge and it was quite the eventful start to this journey he’s still on.
“From there, the journey has been a really long one. I went to the AIS and getting a scholarship there was my goal throughout high school and that was pretty awesome,” Armour said.
“That gave me the chance to go head-to-head with Patty Mills every single day and we’d get into fist fights literally every single day for 12 months. Chasing his tail was something that I look back on as being pretty special and I was a year younger than Patty and a year older than Delly.
“That was an invaluable experience and helped my growth as a player and person. From there I went to West Sydney Razorbacks where I was a development player under Rob Beveridge and Shawn Dennis, which was awesome but a scrawny 17, 18-year-old.
“Money was tight and that wasn’t easy but Bevo was an enormous help to me. Bevo is still someone that out of anyone I’d want to play for in the NBL, it would be him. I can’t speak more highly of him, he’s a really quality dude.”
Following the AIS, Armour went to the United States where he attended the Missouri State West Plains junior college before ending up at Augusta State which has also been the home of fellow Australians including Ben Madgen and Greg Hire.
“I then went to college and had some eligibility issues, but went to a junior college at Missouri State, the University of West Plains,” he said.
“That was awesome but an interesting experience being away. I spent two years there and then graduated because it was a junior college and a bit of a jungle. But coming from the AIS, I didn’t know any different.
“From there I went to Augusta State and spent another two years under Dip Metress who is one of the winningest coaches in Division II basketball. We had a really successful couple of seasons.”
Armour then got to realise his dream of playing for the Perth Wildcats in his hometown when he returned from college, but he could never quite graduate beyond development player status and when Beveridge departed after the 2013 Grand Final, so did Armour.
Hard work and desire led to him earning a chance with the Sydney Kings before a broken leg saw that come to an end.
Ultimately that was his last NBL opportunity, but the entire journey that has made up Armour getting to this point of now playing 200 SBL matches is something that he wouldn’t change despite the bumps along the way.
“I then came back and was in Wildcats development and then when Bevo moved on I thought I’d try my luck and threw myself over to Sydney. There were 34 guards going for one position and that’s when I got that role when Madgen got injured,” Armour said.
“That was pretty special to have a crack but I still have a lot of fire in the belly because I never feel like I had a real NBL career. But my basketball journey has taken me to more places than I could ever imagine around the world.
“I lived in America for five years, I’ve been to China on different tours six times and have been to Italy and throughout European on tours as well as Indonesia, Malaysia and lived in Sydney for three years and Canberra for a year.
“Basketball has opened up so many opportunity and doors for me and it’s been great for me and I’m forever grateful to that. It’s led to the jobs I’ve had and just the networking and relationships and friendships I’ve had. I have a lot to be thankful for.”