THE Rockingham Flames were finally at full strength and the result was a big win over the defending champions but it wanted last in the short-term but coach Ryan Petrik knew that would be the case as he adjusts to life coaching in the Men’s SBL.
Petrik always envisioned himself coaching in the Men’s SBL when he was an assistant coach a decade ago.
A chance opened up with Rockingham’s Women’s team and he thought that might be a short-term option, but it turned into a brilliant run for Petrik with the Flames including championships in the 2014 and 2015, and another Grand Final appearance in 2012.
He was also Coach of the Year back in 2012 on top of being entrenched as Andy Stewart’s right hand man at the Perth Lynx in the WNBL but by the end of 2018, he was ready for a fresh challenge and when Brad Samuelson moved on after the semi-final loss to Perry Lakes he put his hand up.
Petrik has been in charge now of the Flames for 12 games in the Men’s SBL and it took until last Friday night for his full squad to be available for the first time with Brad Robbins overcoming hamstring problems and Greg Hire back from representing Australia in 3×3 action.
The result was an outstanding 86-62 victory over the Hawks and it offered a glimpse into what this Rockingham team is capable when at full strength, and with everything all coming together.
Petrik knew that it would always be a challenge with his talented group with the potential always of injuries and then other commitments of the likes of Hire and Luke Travers in particular.
That availability of everyone last Friday won’t now be replicated again for at least a little while including this Friday night for the trip south to take on the South West Slammers, but for Petrik he was happy with the glimpse into the future that he saw on Friday to what could happen later in the season.
“We now lose Bobby again this week and then Greg is away for some more 3×3 stuff and Luke Travers is going to go on some American tours, so we won’t be at full strength for a while yet but it is what it is,” Petrik said.
“Ideally you’d want everyone every week, but the reality is at state league level is that it’s not going to happen when you have a really good team because generally they have other commitments. It was certainly pleasing to get everyone on the court at the same time and I’d love to have that for a month, that’s my ideal wish.
“I would just like everyone together for a month so I can at least work out my rotations and to get everyone on the same page offensively and defensively.
“The in/out has been a problem just for subbing patters and getting guys used to playing with one another, and we can’t run everything we’d like just because some guys don’t know the plays. It’s been like we’ve had one hand tied behind our backs all season so far but it is what it is.”
The performance last Friday at Bendat Basketball Centre against Perry Lakes was outstanding for Rockingham in the rematch from last year’s three-game semi finals.
For the Flames to hold a Hawks team including Clint Steindl, Shawn Redhage, Ryan Smith, Brian Carlwell and company to 62 points was an outstanding effort defensively and then do well offensively to win by 24 made it an encouraging night.
It was pleasing for Petrik to see the response to an 11-point loss at home the week before against the Warwick Senators where they conceded 110 points despite also responding the next night to beat Willetton 96-68.
“In fairness, Warwick were really good and we watched the game back and we were really impressed. They are brilliant, they are long, they are gangly and they are tough. They’re really good and they taught us a real lesson where I thought we played OK but they were just better,” Petrik said.
“It left us with things to fix defensively hence we smashed them on film during the week. That has been our focus for seventh months now since we talk over in October-November.
“We told them we just had to get better on defence and that we had to finish in the top three in opposition field goal and three-point percentage because last year they were ranked ninth or 10th, and finished eighth.
“The reality was they were a 12-14 team so we’ve always known we had to get better at that end of the court.”
What Petrik always knew when appointed coach of the Flames for 2019 was that they had to significantly improve defensively to at least get back to the point of reaching the semi finals that they did in 2018.
He knew that if you take out that bright patch in the finals where they beat the Geraldton Buccaneers who were top seeds in two games and then won the opening match of the semi finals against Perry Lakes, they were a team that went 12-16 the rest of the season.
Often times the problem was conceding too many points including in that Game 3 loss to Perry Lakes in the semi finals. That’s why he knew that improving defensively was the goal for the Flames in 2019 and he has been impressed with the buy in from the playing group.
“We’ve been trying to give them reality checks right from the start of pre-season to say that yes, you did get within a game of the Grand Final but really they got hot for three weeks,” Petrik said.
“They went 3-0 in three weeks and outside of that they got swept in Week 4 and the regular season was 12-14 so we’ve been telling them how much work there was to do, especially defensively.
“And in fairness, the boys have wanted to learn and they have wanted to get better. At no point were they satisfied and content, they have absolutely wanted to get better at that end of the court. Now it’s just about putting it all together with the guys that are coming back.”
The way that recently turned 18-year-old Luke Travers continues to perform for the Flames is also offering a glimpse into his sure to be successful professional basketball, whatever path he chooses to take from here.
With all the ability in the world, right now he is showing his enormous athleticism by finishing above the rim but is also shooting the ball well, impressing off the trouble and being a menace defensively.
It’s a remarkable set of achievements for a teenager with Travers averaging 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists while battling a back complaint.
Petrik can’t speak more highly of his potential and while he knows his future is beyond the SBL, he’s delighted to have him on board right now.
“He is the real deal and Andrew Cooper has had a lot to do with him and deserves a lot of credit for his development,” Petrik said.
“The other thing is that he’s been really badly banged up for four or five weeks straight now with a really bad back, but he has been phenomenal in two or three games. He has had quiet games and that’s when he has been especially sore.
“Clearly he does some stuff out there that kids his age shouldn’t be able to do, and Andrew Cooper often has to remind me that he is still only 17 years of age. He is the real deal and is going to be something special.”
As for comparing coaching in the Women’s SBL to the Men’s, Petrik admits to it taking a period of adjustment to get used to the different and varied challenges.
The natural abilities of more of the men’s players to do things that you can’t plan for and can’t stop is certainly adding to the extra challenge, but it’s something he has always wanted to do and he’s looking forward to growing along with the new role the longer he is in the hot seat.
“It’s actually a lot harder. It is such a jump and the coaching talent on the men’s side is huge, no disrespect to anybody intended,” he said.
“Obviously there are elite coaches in the women like Mansfield, but on the guys’ side you run into incredible coaches and more importantly, you run into incredible shot makers on the teams. We’ve had games where we have thought we’ve been fantastic defensively and given up 50 per cent from three.
“The general comment would be that in the women’s if you get your scout right you should be OK 99 per cent of time, unless someone like Schwagmeyer, Whitcomb or an elite player makes some crazy moves that you can’t do anything about.
“But generally in the women’s when you get scored on you’ve done something wrong defensively. But right now in the men’s league, it feels like you can get your scout and defensive stuff right, and it might not matter if a Steindl rises up and you can’t do anything about it.
“It feels like your hands are tied a lot more in the guys as a coach compared to the women’s, but I’m enjoying the challenge.”
Petrik also admits that it’s a challenge to not take a keen interesting in the women’s game every night given how long he coached the Flames group and that his wife Chelsea remains captain in 2019.
But quite simply, he doesn’t feel he would be doing his job coaching the men if they didn’t receive his full attention on game night so he makes sure he doesn’t get distracted.
“The thing is that when you coach the women, you walk in and you are up first so there’s no distraction on pre-game. You get to the stadium an hour and-a-half before the women’s game and there’s nothing on to distract you,” Petrik said.
“But with the guys, you walk in and there’s a women’s game going on and part of you really wants to watch it especially when your wife is playing in it, and it’s your ex team so you have a vested interest.
“But at the same time, all I’m focusing on is making sure our scout is right for our game and thinking of all the things we need to get done.
“Therefore I’m just not thinking about the women’s as much as I would love to watch it. But I know the more attention I pay to it, the less I’m paying to my guys and I’m not doing my job which wouldn’t be good enough.”