COCKBURN Cougars coach Adam Nener couldn’t be happier with his team’s response to an 0-4 start to win their past three games and the key has been having more players step up to support yet another standout season from captain Gavin Field.
Field is producing another standout season for the Cougars averaging 23.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game. While that is to be expected from the 233-game star, it shouldn’t be appreciated any less.
However, while he was impressive in Cockburn’s four losses to the start the season against Willetton, East Perth, Rockingham and Geraldton, the problem for the Cougars was that he just wasn’t receiving enough support.
Things just about got to make or break point for Cockburn in 2019 with a 30-point loss to the Flames and then a 39-point loss in Geraldton against the Buccs.
That saw them enter a challenging clash with the Kalamunda Eastern Suns but they got over the line for their first win of the season before backing it up 24 hours later with a seven-point road win over the South West Slammers.
That gave the Cougars some confidence heading into Easter Thursday against Lakeside where they produced a tremendous all-round performance to win 102-88 to make it three straight ahead of a nine-day break before a road clash with the Flames this Saturday night.
The key to that win over the Lightning was that while Field contributed strongly with another 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists, he received plenty of help.
Seva Chan delivered 15 points and seven assists, Matt Vinci 15 points, Eric Milam 12 points and four rebounds, Jake Harris 12 points, and Jaarod Holmes 10 points, four boards and four assists.
Looking back, Nener has no doubt those two wins over the Eastern Suns and Slammers gave the Cougars the confidence to go into the clash with the Lightning feeling good and the coach is happy with the application of his players.
“It was a definite confidence boost for the boys and for us as the coaching staff as well,” Nener said.
“Going 0-4 for the first four games is always tough, but the boys worked hard all the time at training and have been right through that period.
“They’ve had to adjust to a couple of things but those couple of wins last week really helped us move forward and have some confident to take on whoever we are playing next.”
It’s a new-look Cougars team in some ways this season despite Nener in his third year as coach and Field, Chan, Steven Van Lit, Harris, Holmes and Jakob Knight all remaining.
Vinci, Hayden Bell and Mitch Hampson have come from rival SBL clubs with import Milam making his return to the league, and Nener always thought it might take some time for things to gel.
While there were some concerns over those first four losses, he has liked what he has seen the past three games but knows they have to continue to grow.
“It’s starting to come together pretty well having brought in Hayden Bell, Matt Vinci and Mitch Hampson from other clubs this season. Three additions can always be hard to try and gel to get used along with Eric now coming in, but I feel like it’s starting to come together,” Nener said.
“I don’t want to speak too soon obviously because we have a long way to go, but we know where we want to be and are taking strides to get there even though there’s a lot of improvement to come. But we are happy with how things have transpired the past couple of weeks.”
It’s hard not to marvel at Field’s continued outstanding performances for the Cougars and it’s not unreasonable to say that he’s underappreciated a little.
Nener feels that might be because he has been doing what he’s doing for such a long period now through his 233-game career, that it might just be expected.
But that doesn’t make it any less remarkable and Nener knows the key for the Cougars is to provide him with more support.
“I think he’s one of the best players going around in the league obviously and has been for a number of years,” Nener said.
“I think sometimes people just expect it from him and that doesn’t mean he goes unnoticed, but people see it as him doing what they expect from him. But he is a special kind of player and one we’d love to be able to provide some more help around.”
Holmes is one player who has taken his game to another level this season with the Cougars, largely because he’s had to hold down the fort inside until the arrival of Milam to give him some support.
Holmes is now a 145-game SBL player, but is averaging career-best numbers this season with 15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game with Nener delighted to see him rewarded for the hard work he’s put in.
“Jaarod really worked hard in the off-season to work on getting his body weight down and getting a little bit fitter so he can run out games for us,” he said.
“He’s really become a vocal leader for us as well on the court and off the court. He’s stepping up big time in more ways than just on the court and it’s really good to have him back on board and having developed as well as we has.”
Vinci had a bit of a slow start finding his groove this season with the Cougars having made the move from Lakeside where he had played 125 games.
But he came up huge with 15 points on Easter Thursday with 15 points in an inspired second half in the win over the Lightning with Nener always feeling like he’d be a valuable addition.
“I don’t know if he had a point to prove or not, but he is still trying to learn our system and understanding where he fits in,” he said.
“He has had a couple of good games now, but obviously this one was the best one by far. He should be happy with that and he was a big factor in us winning the game.”
Nener is in his third season as coach at the Cougars on the back of his own 246-game SBL career split between Willetton and Cockburn.
It was a tough start to 2019 with the four losses, but he’s feeling better now after the last three wins as he continues to grow into the head coaching role.
“After the last three wins, I’m definitely enjoying it a bit more,” Nener said.
“It’s a challenge but the boys are responded to our coaching pretty well and I’ve got some good support around me with Dave Moreschi and Mike Van Lit Jr. It’s tough but it’s fun and I love doing it.”