WHILE he embarks on a new journey in the NBL, East Perth Eagles coach Adam Forde is happy with the mix he now has and he’ll always back hard workers like Aiden Murphy, Shaquille Mahary and Dennis Tawhiti over the unknown of an import.
It has been a big couple of weeks for Forde with his decision to resign his post as assistant coach at the Perth Wildcats where he’s been a key part of NBL championship success.
He turned down the chance to take a step up as lead assistant too following the departure of Matt Nielsen, instead choosing to move east to join the Sydney Kings and work under rookie coach Will Weaver.
Forde remains committed at East Perth and things were looking a little shaky for the Eagles this time last week.
Forde had just returned after being overseas for a couple of weeks and East Perth had lost four games straight while things weren’t working out with a second import.
Initially Forde and the Eagles had come to terms with former Rockingham Flames big Vinnie Zollo, but that didn’t come to fruition. They then had a look at another import already in town last week but that wasn’t going to work out either.
So instead what Forde decided was to forget about the unknown and delay of looking for another import, and instead back in what he had locally which meant offering a contract to Shaquille Mahary for the first time.
With Dennis Tawhiti now having returned to the club too to add some size and experience, Forde is happy with the combination that pair provides over what a potential big import might have offered, if and when he arrived.
The result last Saturday night was an impressive win at Herb Graham Recreation Centre for East Perth against an imposing Lakeside Lightning team that sees them improve to 5-7 on the season ahead of another home clash this Saturday night to the Willetton Tigers.
While the Eagles are still missing a couple of injured players Andrej Donlagic and Matt Leary, they were much closer to full strength in that win over the Lightning and after a difficult past month, Forde saw plenty that he wants his team to now build upon.
“The best thing about it is that there’s no real pressure on us. Any pressure that is directed at us is self-imposed. No one expects East Perth to do well so this is us where we can try to capitalise by starting games where teams might underestimate us,” Forde said.
“Teams are well coached, don’t get me wrong, but it might be human nature to not take us as seriously as some other teams. Now we can say that this is the squad we’ve got and this is the squad that has to get it done.
“We’ve added Shaq into the line-up which is great because we’ve lost Matt Leary and Andrej to ankle injuries. He’s come in at the perfect time and DT is playing exceptionally well for us, and it’s great to have him back in the line-up.
“We dictate our own future and this is where there isn’t a lot of pressure on us other than the pressure we put on ourselves. We have to make that the focus in practice and hopefully it translates into games over the second half of the season.”
East Perth looked a different team early in the season when Sunday Dech was with the Eagles, but since newly signed Illawarra Hawks departed for the NZ NBL, the Eagles were clearly lacking something.
But Tawhiti has now been back for five games and Mahary showed encouraging signs on debut last Saturday night to add some depth, size and versatility to the Eagles line-up.
Forde is happy with what both provide because he knew that without Dech and a second import, they needed to add something if they hoped to stay in the playoff race in 2019.
“Especially when we had Sunday at the start of the season, his ability to cut off the ball and defend was what we have been missing the most,” he said.
“We can find different ways to score and get looks, but the ability of Shaq to instinctively play at the rim and defend gives us some of what we lost from Sunday.
“Then with DT, what he contributes to the group with his leadership and experience, I’ll go with that over an import that you only have seen highlight tapes of and are unsure what the guy can bring.
“DT really brings a level of maturity that we need in this group so it’s great having them both in, it makes my job easier.”
Another great positive for the Eagles and Forde is the continued growth and development of point guard Aiden Murphy.
He has now amassed 86 games in the SBL and the faith shown in him to be the starting point guard for much of that time at the Eagles has rapidly advanced his growth.
Murphy is now at a point where Forde entrusts him with the biggest defensive role every game and to run the team’s offence, and he has full faith that he is more than capable of doing a good job at all of it.
“He gets the toughest defensive assignments every week and he matches up against all the high-scorers, it doesn’t matter who it is if it’s a guard or a forward,” Forde said.
“We stick him on the guy who is going to be the barometer for the other team so to do that on the defensive end and then come down with the composure as our primary point guard is a lot of responsibility for a young player.
“But Aiden shoulders the responsibility of facilitating and getting us through our sets. He made a massive corner through against Lakeside and his level of maturity but also composure to then transition from making that shot straight into getting a stop, to have that is hard to coach into someone.
“Guys either naturally have that leadership about them or they don’t, and he has it. Aiden is worth his weight in gold and as long as he keeps playing, I’ll keep putting him out there because he can influence the game without needing to score.
“It’s similar to Damian Martin where Aiden could have five points and five rebounds but influence the game so dramatically that he was the difference between a win and loss.”