HIS leadership was a big factor in setting up the Perth Wildcats for their last decade of greatness and it appeared Brad Robbins’ coaching career was set to take off, but an itch to play again and to do so alongside Greg Hire was something he had to scratch with the Rockingham Flames.
Robbins put together a tremendous NBL career that started back with the Victoria Giants and Cairns Taipans before he arrived at the Wildcats to really make his mark starting in the 2006/07 season.
By 2010, he was a key part of the championship-winning team with his leadership, defence and hard-nosed attitude becoming crucial in the team’s success. He was named captain following that season but by midway through the 2012/13 season, he announced his retirement.
That would prove premature and he returned briefly late in the season to cover for the injured Damian Martin. But he returned to retirement after 215 games and a championship following that.
He did continue to play in the SBL in 2014 and then half of 2015 with the Joondalup Wolves where he had played in a championship alongside Hire back in 2011.
However, the last three years has seen Robbins begin life as a coach and he was assistant to Craig Friday for the Lady Wolfpack and ended up as head coach for a large chunk of 2018 with Friday unavailable due to his duties with the national wheelchair team.
Robbins was enjoying coaching and did feel like he could do that long-term, and he still does, but he just couldn’t shake that feeling that he stopped playing too early having retired from the NBL aged only 28 and from the NBL when he was just 30.
Then when he saw Hire, now his brother-in-law with the pair having both married sisters, continuing to play in the SBL and how much passion he had and what he was delivering on the court, Robbins knew it was now or never to embark on a comeback.
So while he still does see himself returning to coaching down the track, Robbins committed himself to a return in 2019 and there was nobody he wanted to do that alongside more than Hire even if it meant quite the trip to play with the Rockingham Flames.
Despite a couple of torn hamstrings and only having played five matches to date this season, Robbins couldn’t be happier with the decision because he would have had to live with that regret of not returning to the court the rest of his life otherwise.
And in Saturday night’s win over the South West Slammers, he showed exactly what he was capable of still in the absence of Hire and Caleb White.
Robbins produced 17 points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals in 22 minutes of court time to not so much turn back the clock, but to show that his desire to play again was well and truly justified.
Robbins was enjoying the coaching he was doing at the Wolves, but he knows he could potentially coach for the next 30 years all things going well, but a return to playing was either now or never.
And working alongside Ryan Petrik, Andrew Cooper and company in Rockingham has shown to him that he wants to be a coach down the road, but for now he couldn’t be happier focusing on being a player for the last time.
“The conversations I had with Greg was all around the fact that I would have plenty of time to coach again down the line, but this might be my only chance to give playing another try,” Robbins said.
“So I decided, yep bugger it I’m 34 and this is the right time to play again because the clock is ticking on that, but there’s no clock on me being able to coach. I enjoyed coaching and I’m grateful I did it, but I had a bug that I just needed to get rid of to play again.
“And provided my body allows me to stay on the court, I hope to do that now for two or three more years as well if I can. When I haven’t been playing I was helping out the coaching staff and Petto has really ignited that flame in me to coach again as well because he’s someone I respect a lot and have enjoyed being around.
“I love his temperament and the way he thinks about the game, and I’m learning from him every week whether I’m sitting on the sideline or playing.
“I’ve felt fully engaged with this team whether I’ve played or not so for me it’s just such a super positive environment and now I can get back out on the court knowing that when I’m done this time, I’ll definitely want to move into coaching and see where that takes me.”
It would be reasonable to say that had it not been for his close friendship and now being related through marriage to Hire that Robbins’ pull to return to playing might have ever reached a level strong enough that he would pursue.
But their bond started a decade ago and has only continued to grow. Robbins was already a championship-winner in the NBL and captain at the Wildcats when Hire arrived as a development player ready to do anything and everybody to earn a full contract.
Robbins quickly took Hire under his wing and their bond began to be forged which also included them winning a championship in the SBL in 2011.
But by the time Hire was becoming a regular NBL player, Robbins was retiring from the Wildcats and while they now share plenty away from basketball as husbands, fathers and best of friends, being a teammate once more was a burning passion.
Robbins felt he missed out on being Hire’s teammate at the Wildcats for as long as he wished he could have, but now he can make up for lost time at the Flames.
“I love playing with Greg and that’s something I’ve dearly missed I think. My career in the NBL was cut too short and I’ve always regretted that I didn’t have more of an opportunity to play with Greg. To now be able to do that towards the end of his career is really awesome,” Robbins said.
“It’s pretty cool to be playing with him. Last year when I was watching him in the SBL when I had the chance with my coaching, I just kept thinking to myself that I should be out there with him. To actually be doing it with him at Rockingham is something that I would have regretted if I never got to do it.
“When I watched the Perth Wildcats after I retired, I would always regret not playing with him given he’s now my brother-in-law and best mate. To be able to play with him towards the end of his career in a different role than at the ‘Cats, is pretty awesome.
“When we were at the Wildcats together, I was the leader of the group and he was the rookie coming in. Now here it’s crazy and I can walk into the changeroom and not say a word, and relax because Greg is in that leadership role. To watch him grow over his career with what he’s achieved is incredible.
“He is just such a great example that you can have all the talent in the world, but what really matters is if you work your backside off. If you do that, anything is possible and he is just a walking statement of that. It’s very special to be able to play with him.”
Robbins first thought of a return when he watched Hire and the Flames play against the Wolves at HBF Arena last year when he had just finished coaching the Lady Wolfpack earlier in the evening.
That got the itch starting to grow and then the hard work started, and despite the hamstring hiccups, Robbins is happy with the shape he’s in and now what the second half of 2019 could hold for him on the floor at the Flames.
“It has been a long road to get back on the court. I started training again back in July last year when I was still coaching at the time. I just had the thought in the back of my head and I just wanted to put myself in the position to be able to be able to make a decision,” Robbins said.
“Then obviously I had Greg and my wife in my ear offering all positive vibes. Then later in the year I was in shape and I’m now six kilos lighter than I was at the ‘Cats so I’m in really good nick. I just had to get a few of the niggles out of my system and people joked around I was getting too old, but I’m only 34 so I don’t think that’s the case.
“It was more about not having played the game for a few years so my body had to get used to it again because all those short, sharp movements and sprints up the floor are something you can’t really replicate in training.
“I worked really hard over the pre-season and then I had two torn hamstrings and a third tweak, but hopefully that’s behind me now and I’m super excited to be out on the floor again and what the rest of this season might look like.”