HE got to live out a fairytale little over six months ago leading the Perry Lakes Hawks to an SBL championship and now as he approaches his 300th game, Ben Purser reflects on the journey to get to this point and with how life has panned out.
It was hard to not be inspired by, and happy for, Purser as he led the Hawks to the 2018 championship given the blood, sweat and tears he has given Perry Lakes since he was a teenager.
He would make his SBL debut in 2008 as an 18-year-old before he had even started at Augusta University and it is Perry Lakes that means the world to him and his family, and where his legacy continues to be built.
To be co-captain and Grand Final MVP in the club’s first championship triumph since the fourth in-a-row in 2004 mean that he will always hold a special place in Perry Lakes’ rich history.
Now on Sunday at Bendat Basketball Centre on the John Gardiner Showcourt, he adds another piece to his story when he plays his 300th game for Perry Lakes against the Geraldton Buccaneers.
He already sits second on the Men’s all-time games tally at Perry Lakes, behind Joe-Alan Tupaea on 317 and there’s every chance he sits on top of that list by the end of 2019.
Having played so many games all for the one club does mean a lot to Purser but it’s ultimately achievements like winning last year’s championship that trump any personal accolade.
“It does mean a bit. I remember my 200th seemed like it was only a couple of seasons ago, but this means a lot when you see the games leaderboard on the court with all the names and Joe-Alan Tupaea is the only one ahead of me now in the men,” Purser said.
“Tanya Kelly (336) is up there and there are some special names there in Hawks history, some I played with and some I watched play as a kid. To be in the mix with all of them is something to be proud of.
“In terms of reflection, it’s more about not knowing how many more seasons I’ll keep going and I weigh it up after every season. The milestone is nice but the things that make you reflect more are things like winning the championship last year and then the milestones come along the way.
“I’m sure Parso will have a few words on the weekend and it might make me reminisce a little bit but I won’t be trying to do a whole lot of reflection.”
Reflecting on what happened just over six months ago, it was a remarkable story for the Hawks to even reach the Grand Final, let alone come away with the championship.
They finished the regular season on the back of a 12-game winning streak before then having to overcome the Lakeside Lightning in a tough quarter-final series.
They then lost the opening game of the semi finals to the Rockingham Flames while losing former league MVP Jacob Holmen in the process to a knee injury.
But they grit their teeth and won Games 2 and 3, and produced an outstanding Grand Final performance against the Joondalup Wolves with Purser at the forefront ending up named MVP and hoisting up the trophy alongside co-captain Rob Cassir and coach Matt Parsons.
For Purser, winning the championship for Perry Lakes lived up to everything he dreamed of and more.
“For me, it capped off something I’d always wanted to do. When I first started there was always talk about the previous generation given they won four straight there so to create a bit of our own legacy and history was what was most important for me,” Purser said.
“To do it with that group of us who have been together for five years since Shawn Dennis and then Nixy were coaching, made it really satisfying.
“It was huge and pretty much a fairytale finish, you couldn’t have scripted it better. We obviously had a tough start with a change of imports and we got Jacob in who was huge for us, and finished the season on a huge momentum wave with the win streak.
“We then had a tough series against Lakeside which could have gone either way in the end, and to have Jacob go down against Rockingham but still get through that series and then win the Grand Final as pretty heavy underdogs was great.”
As good as the game was for Purser, that paled into the background of how good a feeling it was actually getting to celebrate a championship that had taken him 296 SBL games to accomplish.
“The best thing about it was after the final siren and just having all the club people there to celebrate. They were so supportive in the lead up and then having everyone spill out onto the court, and then afterwards back at the Hamilton’s house was a great time,” he said.
“We were just drinking beers and sharing stories until the early hours of the morning, and then even the weeks after with the catch ups, that’s what it was all about for me. During the game it was hard to soak it in, but then a few hours after the reality sunk in that it had actually happened.”
Purser doesn’t necessarily feel like the championship means more because he was also given the honour as Grand Final MVP, but to be co-captain is something he’ll always cherish not so much for the title, but just to know that he played such a valuable role in something so special.
“I thought I played OK but wasn’t quite as efficient as I wanted to be and I thought some other guys were just as deserving, if not more so, so it didn’t mean all that much but it was nice to get that recognition,” Purser said.
“In the lead up I was actually a bit crook and took my first ever sick day at work. I was a bit hazy and went into the game just wanting to do whatever I needed to without overdoing it, and I missed a few easy shots. And I had to play that point guard role for a bit with DT out and I thought I was OK in that role.
“Whether I was captain or not, it’s just a title but everyone knows how much I love the club and what it means to me. But to share it with the group that have been together for five or six years was the most satisfying thing for me where I had the title as captain or not which I was happy to share with Robbie Cassir.
“The amount of people who hit me up to say well done afterwards was actually quite surprising, and was a really good feeling to know you have that much support in the basketball community.”
It wasn’t just a special championship for Purser himself, but for his entire family and it might have even made all those harsh talks after losses or poor games from dad Andrew worth it. But to share it with him and mum Jenny meant everything to him.
“Over the years I’ve had so many talks from my old man in the car after games and he always has an opinion so I think one of the best things about moving out of the family home last year was being able to avoid some of those car trips after a loss with mum and dad,” he said.
“But they have been great for me. Watching the footage back of the Grand Final afterwards and mum was just ecstatic and dad looked like he was about to have a heart attack. They enjoyed it as much as I did I think.”
As for the bigger picture of his basketball career, Purser had always dreamed of playing professionally and he was ever so close to achieving that at the Perth Wildcats.
After returning from college, Purser decided not to go back to Augusta and took up a development player role with the Wildcats and there were times in his 24 NBL appearances that he played meaningful minutes.
While doing that, he looked at home on the court and looked capable of doing it on a regular basis. However, it never quite happened that he earned a full NBL contract but that doesn’t take away from the satisfaction he has in his career.
“I obviously really wanted to make a full-time professional out of it and everything I did from about the age of 15 was on doing everything I could to make that happen,” Purser said.
“I gave that my best crack and I don’t think I could have given any more, and at the point I didn’t get a contract with the Wildcats I had to reassess that.
“I was still studying and it was such a huge part of my life that I didn’t want to give up, so I committed myself to the SBL and Hawks which is where I had made most of my friends even through juniors.
“It’s remained a really good counter to my work providing me with that release. Maybe I didn’t quite ultimately get to where I wanted to, but I’m certainly very satisfied with how everything has ended up.”
While Purser does feel like had he earned a full NBL contract that he might have been able to make a long career out of it, he doesn’t reflect on it with anything but the knowledge that he gave it everything he could and the end result was always going to be out of his control.
Ultimately in his eyes, the fact that he didn’t have that one standout trait might have been what held him back. But in the long run, he remains one of the best all-round players in the SBL because of the way he can do everything so well so his being good at everything has turned out OK.
“I definitely felt like I could mix it up in the NBL but at the time I was there the league had scaled back. There was only eight sides and Perth was the most successful club and you’d only get a spot if a person comes out of contract really, and you had to hope they were in your position,” he said.
“I don’t think my shooting was good enough for NBL level if I’m honest about it and that’s probably what held me back. I thought defensively I could match it and in other areas I could probably match it, but I just didn’t consistently shoot the ball well enough.
“I think when you get to higher levels, you need one skill that defines you and I didn’t really have that. I was good at everything, but wasn’t a standout in any one area.
“I understand the choices they made over me at the Wildcats and maybe I could have tried to play over east to play in the SEABL at one point which could have opened up other options other than the Wildcats.
“But I had got to the point with study where I was starting with work experience and looking for full-time work. So that contributed to the decision to stay here.”
Purser is also now entrenched working as an associate at law firm Steinepreis Paganin where he has been since February 2015, starting as a law graduate before being admitted as a lawyer in December of that year and being made an associate in 2018.
It’s a career that Purser is more than happy with and that is providing him with the perfect balance right now with basketball.
“I really have no faults with work. The firm I’m with and the people there are really supportive and a great crew to work with. All the partners are incredibly knowledgeable and I find I’m always learning,” Purser said.
“In terms of that, it has been pretty steady for me the last four or five years, and finding that balance with basketball is what I’ve been trying to achieve. I really have no negatives about work at all, it’s still early days but they’ve trusted me with responsibility and I’ve enjoyed that challenge.
“Obviously basketball is my passion and if I could have had a full career in that and gone onto this later, I would have done that. But I’m happy with where I’ve ended up. I don’t know if it’s what I want to do forever, but I’m certainly happy with it right now.”