WHEN Nathan Grover took over as coach at the South West Slammers he wanted to instil belief in his Women’s SBL team that they could beat anybody, now with road wins over the Joondalup Wolves and Perry Lakes they are backing up his words to appear a force in 2019.
Admittedly Grover doesn’t possess the deepest, or biggest, roster across the Women’s SBL at the Slammers but what he does appear to have is one of the best blends throughout his group with the two imports, three experienced leaders and then exciting young talent.
Things started well for the Slammers winning four of the first six games before a four-game losing run, but that did include competitive showings against last year’s Grand Finalists Mandurah and Lakeside, and only a blowout to the Warwick Senators.
They then hit back with a stunning one-point home win over the Rockingham Flames and now over the past two weeks, the Slammers have scored their best two wins on the road for 2019.
Firstly they knocked off the league-leading Joondalup Wolves at HBF Arena and then beating the 2017 champion Perry Lakes Hawks at Bendat Basketball Centre, both set up by dominant third quarters at both ends of the floor.
That now has the Slammers sitting on a 7-7 record ahead of a critical double-header this weekend starting at home to the Mandurah Magic on Friday and then at home to the Rockingham Flames on Saturday – with both teams also on the same 7-7 records.
Grover has been assistant coach at the Slammers the past two years to Peter Harper after his stint with the Cockburn Cougars under both Deanna Smith and John Triscari. What he wanted to instil in the playing group when he was appointed was confidence and belief.
He wanted them to believe they could beat any team in the league but also to have the confidence to go out and do it. That’s what the last two wins on the road over the Wolves and Hawks have provided.
“They are very much a confidence group and run on momentum, but I’ve always instilled into them from day one that with this group we can beat anybody in the league,” Grover said.
“We gave Lakeside a really good shake, we knocked off Rockingham and now obviously we’ve beaten Joondalup and Perry Lakes. Apart from two losses which were blowouts, we’ve been in every single game that we haven’t won.
“What it does for the girls is it gives them that belief that we can beat anybody in the league. But the thing is, I think that with every team and we’ve even seen with East Perth when they beat Willetton so anybody can beat anybody.
“Cockburn is on the up, the Suns and Redbacks are pushing up as well so it’s just such an even league. But with our group, it’s all about confidence and belief, but we have enough experience to know that we can beat anybody in the league and we are starting to prove that. Hopefully now some teams in the league will look a little bit closer at us.”
While they might not quite have the depth to cover losing any player to injury with the squad Grover now has to work with and the loss of local guards Georgia Denehey and Tayah Burrows after last season hurt, what Grover has is a group with the ideal mix right now.
Imports Makailah Dyer and Brittni Montgomery provide both the point guard leader and the grunt inside for the team with Kate Fielding (340), Courtney Bayliss (204) and Bianca Donovan (190) then the seasoned veterans who provide 734 games of SBL experience to lead the group.
Then with teenagers Adele East, Ebony Bilcich, Cian Parsons and Beige Harris providing energy and crucial minutes off the bench, Grover wouldn’t trade in his playing squad for any other in the league.
“We’ve lost a couple of players during the year unfortunately so we’re not as deep as we’d like to be but we’ve got girls who are just willing to step up and do what’s required,” Grover said.
“Ebony will come on and she’s definitely not the tallest or fastest in the league, but she’ll come in and box someone out or chase offensive rebounds and just work as hard as she can. Adele is only 15 but she is one of the quickest girls in the league and then Beige is only 16 or 17 as well, and Cian has just turned 18.
“But we have girls who have been hanging around for a couple of years now and are starting to step up to get some minutes and make the most of them. It’s a bit of give and take where we don’t go too deep but also looking to the future to get these girls ready to step up whenever the time comes that Courtney goes or Fieldo retires.”
Dyer is now in her second season in the SBL having been part of the Perth Redbacks team that reached the semi finals last year, but she was more used as a shooting guard in 2018 with little opportunity to run the team’s offence.
When Grover first spoke to her about joining the Slammers, Dyer expressed a desire to be the point guard and have the ball in her hands significantly more. Grover was happy to oblige and now it’s paying off big time.
Dyer’s numbers are up right across the board with 20.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the season and then over the past six games, she’s going at 25.3 points, 5.2 boards and 4.5 assists.
Grover has no doubt she belongs in the MVP discussion and couldn’t be happier to have backed her in as point guard.
“She just desires to be a point guard, that’s what she wants and she wants to have that control of the game. I gave her that right from the start and I told her that if the ball’s in her hands it’s her job to direct and that’s what I brought her down to Bunbury for,” he said.
“She would definitely have to at least be in top five of the MVP in the league right now. She just feels comfortable and we worked a bit on her shot in the off-season, Darren’s worked with her on that, and her numbers are up on that and she’s scoring over 20 a game this season when she only put up 11 last year.
“The little things we’ve tweaked with her have shown an improvement and she’s leading the league in assists as well. Again it’s just about confidence for her and she’s back to the natural game she played at college as point guard. I think she’s doing an outstanding job.”
When recruiting for a second import, Grover wanted a different type of player than most teams in the league possess and that was a genuine post presence and back to the basket centre.
He found Brittni Montgomery and while has been frustrated by foul trouble at times, she is producing 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds a game with Grover delighted with the different type of big she gives the Slammers.
“We’re not flushed with bigs down in Bunbury and we never have been, so it was really key for me to get a back to the basket player because the league doesn’t have too many of them,” Grover said.
“Most of the bigs like a Steindl, Rintala, Burton, Grant, Garbin or Boag all like to prefer to step outside and shoot the ball. So I thought it would add a different dimension to our game and would make defences think a little bit more by having her presence down there.
“When she’s on, she is virtually unstoppable down there if she can stay out of foul trouble which is a bit of a common theme now unfortunately.
“But just her presence alone forces defences to change things up a little bit that they wouldn’t have to do against other teams in the league. She’s a great rebounder too and she’s definitely a really big part of what we are doing.”
Grover was happy with the apprenticeship he did to get himself ready to be a head coach in the Women’s SBL, but you still never quite know how you will go dealing with all the pressures of the main job until you live it.
But halfway into his first season in charge and with Darren Austin in support, Grover couldn’t be happier with the way things are tracking despite all the challenges that go with it.
“It has been great. I’ve loved every minute of it even though there’s been a lot of challenges. I said to myself at the start of the year I’m going to have 22 challenges during the season, not just one,” Grover said.
“I’ll have an individual challenge every week and I work hard during the week to prepare as much as I can and I have a pretty experienced and knowledgeable assistant coach who isn’t afraid to speak up and direct. But overall the club has been great, the girls have been great and it’s been really enjoyable so far.”