NEW Kalamunda Eastern Suns coach Mark Utley will be looking to hold his players more accountable after losing their last two games but he remains confident his group can respond especially when a second import arrives.
The Eastern Suns started their tenure under Utley on a winning note with a road win over Mandurah Magic in Round 1. But the next day they lost at home to the Goldfields Giants by 33 points before also losing at Ray Owen Sports Centre on Saturday night to Mandurah by 16 points.
So two losses at home by a combined 49 points left Utley with a sleepless Saturday night once he got back home to Mandurah from Kalamunda. But he was already refocused on how to get his group to respond the way he expects come this Friday night on the road to the Willetton Tigers.
Utley wasn’t too concerned following the loss to the Giants the previous Sunday because he could put it down to a poor shooting afternoon. But the second half on Saturday night against the Magic left him seeing plenty that he didn’t like.
Import guard Josh Braun was again impressive with 33 points and seven rebounds on 12/22 shooting but aside from that, Utley was left frustrated with a second half that saw them go from leading by eight at half-time to losing by 16 to the previously winless Magic.
On the back of that performance, Utley felt he now needs to be a little more firm with some of his players but at the same time he has faith in them turning things around, especially when the full group is together when a second import gets to town.
“It’s going to be a long season if they don’t respond. I have to hold a few more people accountable to make sure they do the right thing. We are close to signing something with another import so hopefully he’ll get out here soon,” Utley said.
“We originally planned on having a big but it looks like we are going to get a creating point guard/shooting guard to give us that extra support for Braun. You can’t complain about Josh Braun, he got 33 points at 55 per cent with three blocks for a guard, he played well.
“But we didn’t execute down there and part of the issue here has been that I think we cruise when we get a start and are playing well. Then we rest on our laurels and go out of our offensive flow, and we don’t work for each other.
“Getting another creator into the group will help too. We’ve chucked the ball to Carl Aylett who is a young point guard with Jono helping out. Things will be different when we have another creator there.”
Initially Utley did want to bring in an import big, but having seen his team in action now that has changed and he will be bringing in another guard to work alongside Braun.
That has the potential to give the Eastern Suns a tremendously strong back court, but it means that Louis Timms, Cooper Lowe, Ryan Blanchett and Corey Easley have to prove they can do well enough in the front court without the need of an import help.
“We just need them to increase their output and desire and effort, it’s as simple as that,” Utley said.
“Louis can dominate games and I think he will coming up, but he just has to continue to work in the right spots to get high percentage shots because he’s taking a few too many low ones at the moment.
“We do have some good young talent and Cooper Lowe who has been a young kid coming through a Suns product, he’s improved out of sight and that’s why we are bringing in a guard so we don’t recruit over top of those guys.
“When he gets here, Blanchett can go to a four, Logan Viskovich could play as a four in small line-ups and we just have to get everyone together. With another good creator there, we’ll be good in the second half of the season.”
After a couple of years out of coaching in the SBL following his good run in charge of the Rockingham Flames, it hasn’t taken long for all the stress and pressure of the job to come flooding back for Utley two rounds into the 2019 season.
But he signed up for it and is a proven coach at this level, and is looking forward to his group coming together but he acknowledges it was always going to take some time to overcome the of Kevin Davis, Courtney Belger and Kerrod Horn.
“I’ve learned that the job doesn’t get easier, it just doesn’t,” Utley said.
“This is a disappointing performance and this team missed the playoffs by one game last year but people probably understated the influence of guys like Kerrod Horn who aren’t back from that team.
“Courtney Belger was a winner, Kevin Davis was a big and we might have understated those losses. It’s a completely new team that we are running new people through.”