JUST three years ago Rob Cassir was told he would never play again but he refused to give up on his prime years and now as a championship-winning Perry Lakes Hawks co-captain and 250-game SBL player, it’s clearly been worth it.
Cassir came through his teenage years as one of the most promising WA basketball products and that’s why he represented Western Australia at underage levels and then got his start at senior level in the SBL at the Perth Redbacks, playing 53 games between 2007-2010.
He then joined the Willetton Tigers for two tremendous seasons where he looked one of the most promising emerging guards in the competition which saw him also join the Perth Wildcats as a development player with his NBL dream now within reach.
Cassir then joined Wildcats assistant coach Shawn Dennis when he was appointed coach at Perry Lakes and he would go on to have his best SBL season, averaging 11.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals a game.
But then the knee problems began. Cassir did his best in 2014 and 2015 to battle through troubles with his left knee, but then when his right knee began to show similar signs of degeneration early in 2016, his career looked likely to be tragically cut short aged just 25.
Further surgery on both knees was an option and even recommended to Cassir by doctors. That would likely mean he would get rid of the pain in his knees, but it would also mean he wouldn’t be capable of returning to the basketball court.
However, Cassir just couldn’t live with himself without giving a return at SBL level one last chance. He joined in a training session late in the pre-season of 2017 at the Hawks just on a whim. He ended up getting through that unscathed.
Then he got through another session, and another. Then he was able to hit the floor in Round 1 of the 2017 season proper and he never looked back. He played 25 games of that season remaining a solid contributor off the bench in a team that ultimately lost to Willetton in a thrilling quarter-final series.
So Cassir had fought bravely to get through one more full season with the odds against him, but if he could get through one, he thought why not try again.
He went on to be a strong contributor right throughout his 32 appearances in 2018 as co-captain of Perry Lakes. And on Grand Final night at Bendat Basketball Centre, he was up front and centre holding the championship trophy aloft alongside co-captain Ben Purser and coach Matt Parsons.
Cassir wasn’t done with yet either and he’s committed to play on again in 2019 with him continuing to defy the odds to play through the knee problems that eventually will get the best of him and likely mean he knees replacements in both legs.
That means that Cassir treasures every moment he gets to step out onto the floor and he has now done that 250 times in the SBL.
That is a remarkable achievement given a man of less character and determination might have never added to the 164 games he was on when first told that he wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, play again.
To have now reached 250 games is something Cassir is proud of, but the number of matches he played was never a focus.
Just getting back to doing what he loved was always his driving motivation.
“It’s obviously taken me a little longer to get there than I thought it would, but I’m glad that I stuck with it despite those obstacles and have been able to reach 250 games,” Cassir said.
“I definitely am enjoying playing again and I’m glad I battled through those two or three years where the injuries got the best of me.
“It was a frustrating time but you play because you enjoy the game and while I’m proud to reach this milestone, I never played to reach a number. I’m just making the most of playing again because I enjoy the game so much.”
While reaching a milestone like 250 games is something Cassir is happy to accept along the way, nothing will compare to that feeling of the ultimate reward of winning a championship and being co-captain of that Perry Lakes team last year.
“It was definitely nice to win one, you can’t really compare that feeling to anything else. It was obviously a really nice way to end a season,” he said.
“You can go deep into the playoffs and three games into a semi-final series and be so close, but if you lose you are devasted to get beaten and it’s natural you finish the season on a down note with that loss and how hard it is to take.
“But to get to experience finishing a season with a win which means you won the championship is pretty incredible.”
While the Hawks ended up winning the championship last season, it certainly wasn’t one without significant challenges along the way.
After the first game of the season, Perry Lakes lost import Travis Monroe and then along the way his replacement Jacob Holmes and veteran guard Dan Thomas suffered season-ending injuries.
The Hawks then had to come from fourth to even reach the Grand Final in two three-game series’ against Lakeside and Rockingham.
But come Grand Final night, everything clicked and Cassir couldn’t have been prouder of his team and to share it with someone he’s spent much of his career with, and now as co-captain, Purser.
“Everyone just banded together and we peaked at the right time of the year. Obviously losing DT and Jacob was tough because they were huge pieces for us, but the boys always had the belief that we were capable of beating anybody on our night and that’s what ended up happening,” Cassir said.
“Ben and I first played together in a state team in under-18s so we’ve known each other a long time. I loved to play with him then and I still do now, and him along with all the other guys in the team are a big reason why I keep coming back and want to continue playing.”
It has again been a bit of a rollercoaster start to the season for Perry Lakes as defending champions in 2019. From the start of the season, they have added Shawn Redhage and Clint Steindl, but lost Lochlan Cummings.
They currently sit on an 11-7 record following Saturday night’s loss to the Goldfield Giants in what was Cassir’s 250th game in the SBL, but he doesn’t necessarily feel they have an extra target on their backs as defending champions.
“I don’t try to dwell too much on last year. It was great to win but at the end of the day we didn’t finish on top of the ladder and it’s not like we went through the season undefeated or as the dominant team or anything,” Cassir said.
“So there’s always room for improvement and that’s how we looked at this year because we had a great run in the back end of last year, but early on we had a bit of a bad patch.
“This year has started a little bit the same where we haven’t been as consistent as we’d like and we’re not sitting on top of the ladder so we don’t feel like everyone’s always out to get us because of our success last year.
“We try not to dwell on last year too much and just stay focused on what we are doing this year, and hopefully we come together and gel together as a team the longer the season goes on.”
Coaching was something that Cassir dipped his toe into when in the middle of his knee problems to stay involved. He coached Perry Lakes’ Division 1 team successfully too, but has decided to step away from that this year.
He likely won’t coach again while still playing, but someone with his natural basketball brain, it would be a shame if he didn’t come back into coaching down the track.
“I’m not coaching this season but I did enjoy that experience. I just decided that while I was still playing and with work commitments and everything, it was a bit hard to commit the time to coaching as well,” he said.
“I might go into coaching once I stop playing, but maybe not immediately. It’s hard to know what will happen in the future, but if I’m still at an age where I could be playing, then coaching is a bit frustrating because you just want to be out there on the court doing everything yourself.
“But I’m sure one day I’ll be in that mindset to want to be a coach. A lot of coaches throughout my career have put a lot of time and effort into helping me develop, so I’ll try to give back and help the next generation the best I can as a coach.”
Cassir won’t be committing to playing on in 2020 just yet given everything he’s been through, but all signs are pointing to it certainly being possible.
“It’s always still in the back of my mind that while I still enjoy playing and while I still can, I might as well do it as long as I can,” he said.
“But I’m definitely not committing to anything beyond this season, I just take it year by year, and see how I feel and how my body is feeling, and if everything feels up to getting through another year.”
Cassir’s life continues to go well off the court as well in terms of work and relationship with now retired 196-game Lady Hawks captain Kate Anthony.
“I have no complaints with life away from basketball either. Work’s busy and a colleague at the moment has just gone off on a nice seven-week holiday so that will make for an interesting next couple of months covering for him,” Cassir said.
“But life at home is good too. Kate’s enjoying retirement and is enjoying having her Tuesday and Thursday nights now for the first time in more than 10 years with them not taken up by basketball.
“She’s happy for me to keep playing and she knows what I’ve been through, and she is now my No. 1 supporter while enjoying her time away from the game too to focus on other parts of life.”