TWO championships against the odds in the past three years speak for itself about what Matt Parsons is capable of a coach in the SBL, but he would like to make a career out of basketball and hopes his dedication to self-improvement and self-education will pay off in the long run.
Parsons is in no rush for an opportunity at the next level to potentially come his way and he’s more than willing to bide his time, and continue to dedicate himself to improving and growing in as many ways as he can.
Parsons is fully aware there’s a lot more to coaching than just the finished product on the basketball court where he’s achieved great success taking the Cockburn Cougars and Perry Lakes Hawks to SBL championships in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
That’s why he’s dedicated so much time to understanding trends and changes in game plans and philosophies while also taking touring teams to Asia and coaching the Western Australian under-20s teams.
By getting involved in the game at different levels and helping to get the best out of players at different stages, and on different levels, has helped Parsons growth further as a coach as well on top of the success teams he has been in charge of have had.
It’s hard to picture someone more fitting of an opportunity at the next level and someone who would do everything to be successful should a chance open up than Parsons.
For example, if the Perth Wildcats looked locally to fill their vacant assistant coaching positions following the departures of Matt Nielsen and Adam Forde, then Parsons should be on the top of any list.
Parsons has no question that should a chance open up, that he would do everything to make the most of it.
“Helping people get better and to get the best out of themselves I think is the one area I’d be the biggest asset in because that’s what I’ve been able to work on with myself. The self-education aspect is hugely important,” Parsons said.
“There will be things I don’t understand having not been in an NBL program before, but my willingness to learn and educate myself, and doing hours of work that give you a solid base of learning is the area I’d be strongest in. I just love basketball, I live and breathe it.
“I’m watching it every chance I get to the frustration of the kids who want to watch cartoons. It is a huge passion of mine and I’m absolutely determined to make the most of it that I can in my career. I have the passion there and experience as well so I’ve got the ability to coach in games.
“And then the learnings I’ve made in the under-20s program and taking touring teams to Asia, I’ve been exposed to different styles of basketball but also different management styles of players.
“Working with players on how to get the best out of themselves is something that I’ve made a big focus. But if did get some sort of opportunity, I think I would just outwork anyone that I got the chance to go against. That’s what I would like to hold my hat on.”
Just 10 years ago Parsons was finishing up his playing career which included a stint in the SEABL with Bendigo having started out in the SBL with the Swan City Mustangs and then finishing up at the East Perth Eagles in 2009.
Parsons then became assistant coach at the Eagles transitioning into being head coach but the club wasn’t providing an environment he felt was best suited to making a real go at making the best of a coaching opportunity so he decided to step away after 2011.
While spending a couple of seasons out of the league, Parsons used that time to fine tune his coaching philosophies, put in endless hours of educating himself on finer points of the game and making sure the next time he took on a coaching role he was ready to make the most of it.
That saw him take on the job at the Cougars in 2015 where it was a team expected to slide having lost the majority of their 2012 championship winning team.
However, Parsons took them to a better than expected playoff season in 2015 and then things all came together remarkably in 2016 as they went on to win a championship.
But Parsons was desperate to continue his own personal growth and ended up making the move to coach the Perry Lakes Hawks in 2017.
After a season of learning for both coach and playing group in 2017, everything came together in the second half of 2018 culminating in another championship victory at the expense again of the Joondalup Wolves.
On top of his SBL success, Parsons has been taking touring teams throughout Asia during recent off-seasons and for the past two years has also been in charge of the WA under-20s team.
He could hardly be more ready for a chance at the next level and to work full-time in basketball, provided it was the right fit also for his wife and two children.
“I can easily go on record to say that the next couple of years is super important to me to try and get my foot in the door somewhere. Obviously situations arise in terms of what is a good fit and what isn’t a good fit, and those things can be dealt with if and when they come,” Parsons said.
“My sole focus is that my family comes first and that’s the only thing that will take priority over any basketball decision. At the moment no basketball decision has arisen to the point where it’s something I am willing to risk not being able to provide for my family for.
“I’m really lucky and fortunate that my wife is so supportive and that we’re in a financial position where it allows me to seek basketball opportunities. With that it’s an opportunity to try and explore it further to see if I can test myself in the mark. If it’s meant to be, I’m sure the right opportunity will come.”
Once he finished his playing career at East Perth in 2009 having returned to Perth from his time in Victoria and playing in the SEABL, Parsons’ first coaching stint came at East Perth. While it didn’t pan out how it hoped, it did open up his burning passion to be a basketball coach.
“The first coaching gig for me was in 2010 at East Perth under Damian Chalk as his lead assistant. Then he got injured playing a game funnily enough and he couldn’t coach for five or six weeks, and at that stage it wasn’t anything I had really considered,” he said.
“But natural leadership was something that I thought I brought to any club that I played for but in that period it was a bit daunting and I was too young. I didn’t really even believe my own message let alone expect the players to do that.
“But I grew into it and then in 2011 I was able to coach in my own right at East Perth and it was similar to the year before and things didn’t go the way I wanted them to.
“I didn’t want to continue as coach at East Perth and I probably wasn’t mentally at the stage to challenge myself let alone to understand the playing group and the message they needed to hear.
“So I took a couple of years off and that passion came back tenfold and it became a priority of mine to get back into the league and coaching. Self-education was huge during that period and I was watching film, understanding trends and game plans and game styles, and what’s successful now.”
While Parsons is comfortable with the coaching beliefs he has established and deserves to be proud of the success he’s been part of, he knows that the only way to continue to move forward is by not standing still and continuing to grow and improve.
He has no doubt that by having to go up against the strong coaches in the SBL like Ben Ettridge, Stephen Black, Nik Lackovic, Ryan Petrik, Mike Ellis and company makes sure that he can never rest on his laurels.
“For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to put steps in place to achieve that while also staying grounded and understanding that basketball is something you have to continuously work at and there are two parts to coaching,” Parsons said.
“Player management is the No. 1 priority where you have to understand athletes, and it’s also about making sure your systems and tactics hold up better than the opposition. You really have to respect the game and the league, and I’m fortunate that I have some really good coaches that I get to compete against every week.
“We’re all very competitive and there is a huge sense of competition whenever we talk or whenever we play against each other. We’re always trying to outdo each other but in that area brings self-improvement and challenge. If you accept that and that you win some and lose some, and are ready to improve based on results then you will find yourself in a better situation.”
It was that time in between leaving East Perth and taking over at Cockburn that ultimately proved to be the making of Parsons as coach.
It was during that time where he studied basketball on all levels, worked out the game styles and coaching strategies he would like to implement, and what he would want to put in place should he get another opportunity as head coach.
His impact at the Cougars was immediate in that 2015 season when they certainly overachieved to finish the regular season in fourth position and reach the playoffs.
Then in 2016, he did a remarkable job to pull together a playing group driven to succeed but then he knew how to get the best out of them collectively and individually.
It was a group that could have gone either way depending on the impact the coach had with imports Najee Lane and Marcus Goode, veterans Sheldon McIntyre, Dan Thomas, Steven Van Lit and Rhett Della, solid contributors Julian Pesava and Travis Hayto, and superstar captain Gavin Field.
But everything just clicked for the Cougars as they beat powerhouses Perry Lakes, Geraldton and Joondalup on the way to the championship even with Field sidelined with his elbow injury.
Parsons deserves enormous credit as coach for getting the best out of that playing group but he knows it was the players’ drive to accept his guidance that was crucial.
“I kept an eye on the SBL from a distance and then it all helped me when I started my second stint as a coach. I learned how to build role players and teams that can fit to a system, and even about recruiting players that will make the system look and work better,” Parsons said.
“We were able to do that at Cockburn and we had a huge focus on leadership and bringing in people with huge leadership potential to help my deficiencies at the time, or what I deemed as deficiencies at the time.
“We saw some success with that group and the system held up, and that education that I did in my period not being involved in the league shone through. The proof was in that pudding and in 2016 we were lucky enough to win a championship despite a lot of adversity, which seems to be a bit of a pattern.
“Through that adversity it always brings opportunities for others and that’s what I focus on when those situations happen. But for mine, it was around giving myself the opportunity to expose myself to the next level and in those two years at Cockburn I thought it was my opportunity to see basketball as a future career.”
In terms of that Cockburn team, Parsons deserves credit for putting the group together that had that drive to succeed and for getting the best out of themselves even if he puts that credit back on the playing group.
“It’s just a belief factor. There’s probably nothing really an individual coach can do to empower a group of guys to succeed together, it’s just that want to compete with another. That Cockburn team, we had two really strong imports who were a high-risk, high-reward type of recruitment,” Parsons said.
“Both turned out to be exceptional players in the league and I still rate Najee as one of the best guards we’ve ever seen. Second to that, we had a lot of veteran guys who had been there and done that before, so when we lost Gav Field through injury in the finals series and a couple of other guys were sore and sorry for themselves, it wasn’t a new experience for anyone.
“They also had a sense of wanting play so part of our recruiting process was to bring back a guy like Dan Thomas. He’d had a lot of individual success but no team success and Rhett Della was the same with where he’d been, but they were both Cockburn juniors so they were playing for the right reason.
“Their driving motivation is for the Cockburn Cougars so they were playing for something bigger with that opportunity to win a championship at their local club. You just have to find what gets a player going and what makes him compete at a high level. If you get that, more often than not you will get great results and that’s what happened that year.”
While Parsons and his playing group at the Cougars created a tremendous bond, Parsons and those running the ship at Cockburn weren’t on the same page moving forward which is why they parted ways following that 2016 championship.
Parsons quickly accepted the role at Perry Lakes and it was an opportunity he felt would provide him with everything he needed to try to take his career up another level given the increased resources available.
It was also a playing group hungry for success following a string of first round playoff exits, including against Parsons and Cockburn in 2016.
Parsons wanted to change the culture and attitude inside the playing group for the Hawks to take them from having a mindset of accepting near enough is good enough, to having the mindset of pushing themselves to the limit and also changing the way they played to be a grittier outfit.
There were signs of growth in 2017 but again they suffered a first round playoff exit to minor premiers, Willetton.
Then after a slow start to 2018 and a string of injuries, things clicked in the second half of 2018. Despite losing reigning league MVP Jacob Holmen during the semi finals against Rockingham, their depth and dedication proved too strong and they won the Grand Final against the Wolves.
“From the outside looking in, that Perry Lakes brand was strong and they have been the most successful club historically in the SBL and it all came under the era of John Gardiner,” Parsons said.
“So the brand of the club was strong and then there’s also the resources and facilities, and ability to have greater exposure potentially by coaching there and within the team because it’s a bigger club with a broader reach.
“It would give a greater means to recruit and that’s not so much in terms of the budget or money, but resources like the facilities, people like Dave Philpot who is physio for the Perth Wildcats and Australian Boomers.
“Those resources at Perry Lakes are invaluable and there are so many people involved who volunteer their team that make the club so strong which is what drove me to want to be part of it.
“Then the playing list was fantastic and it was at the right age demographic where they were ready for success. They just needed the right coach to give them direction because they had been so close for a number of years. Success was a matter of time for them and I came on board at the right time and it’s been good so far.”
Parsons is proud of what he has achieved in the SBL and is committed to trying to defend his championship with the Perry Lakes Hawks in 2019 with a team that now features Perth Wildcats championship winners Clint Steindl and Shawn Redhage.
But Parsons is also proud of other coaching work he has done and the way that has helped his own personal growth and development in a lot of different ways.
“I love the SBL and it’s my passion, and I spend 30 hours a week on it, but those little gigs that you get the chance to do on the side like the under-20s program and those touring teams, it’s really about the athlete and helping them grow and achieve their dreams,” Parsons said.
“That’s a refreshing process because you take a group of 18 and 19-year-olds to a national championships where you will generally bond by living in each other’s pockets for a week or so, but over three months you see some remarkable talent in the trial games and practice sessions.
“Then you build a system that supports the skill sets of those players and that particular group that year. Not only do you get exposed to new worth ethics and new standards that these kids are setting, but they can teach me a lot too if they have come from the AIS and different programs.
“The reality is that the exposure from coaching at national titles where I’m a nobody compared to the other coaches involved, it’s important that the teams you coach have a brand identifiable with WA basketball.
“Basketball WA has done a phenomenal job the last few years producing athletes who are going to huge colleges over in America and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with those kids through things like the under-20s program.
“By holding the championships at the AIS, it exposes you to elite facilities and new standards in terms of what Basketball Australia’s style of play is.
“You are getting all of those insights and it’s been huge for me because I pick up so much and I feel I can stay one step ahead of the game because we have really in-depth points of emphasis that you can bring back here with you.
“It provides a huge insight of how our league can improve and from the exposure of how we hold up as a state compared to the rest of the country.”