WHILE not having superstar guard Lauren Mansfield for two weeks might not be ideal, for Perth Redbacks coach Craig Allen he wants the fact that the club and league possesses a player representing the Australian Opals should be celebrated.
It would be easy and understandable for Allen and the Redbacks to look at the smaller picture of the challenge it will provide finishing the regular season without the presence of Mansfield, but in the bigger scheme of things the fact that she is playing at the Redbacks and in the SBL is massive.
The presence of Mansfield in the SBL has been a massive boon for the Redbacks this season with the regular Opals representative and Perth Lynx WNBL star a big reason why Perth has overcome a slow start to the regular season to be right in the playoff hunt with three weeks of the regular season left.
Mansfield will now play her last game of the regular season this Friday night when the Redbacks take on the Perry Lakes Hawks at Bendat Basketball Centre and that game is massive in the context of the season for both clubs.
The Lady Hawks sit sixth at 9-9 and the Redbacks are ninth at 9-10 so that says it all about what is at stake, but it’s about a much bigger picture than that for the benefits of having Mansfield’s presence in the league for the first time in 2019.
That is the attitude of Allen. In his first season as coach, it would be easy for him to have an insular look because those games without Mansfield against the Magic and Cougars will decide the Redbacks’ playoff position and if they reach it or not.
However, Allen is taking the big picture approach of the positives of what having Mansfield in the SBL and at the Redbacks provides, and if that means she misses two weeks then so be it.
The fact that she is missing those two weeks to attend the Australian Opals training and selection camp in Phoenix ahead of September’s Asia Cup is hardly something any state league club should ever have an issue with.
“We have to celebrate that and as a group we’ll be celebrating that for her because it’s an awesome achievement and opportunity to represent your country,” Allen said.
“It’s awesome for the group to be around somebody of that calibre so it’s a great positive for us. It might not be ideal timing for us leading into finals, but the reality of it is that if we can celebrate and embrace that positivity of having a player representing her country, then we can carry that forward.
“Hopefully we can back Lauren as a group to be in the finals for when she gets back and support her in her ambitions. We see it as a real positive for her and our whole group.”
It was a challenging start to the season for the Redbacks in Allen’s first year in charge after a long and distinguished apprenticeship he did at the Willetton Tigers.
The Redbacks lost the opening six games of the season but that was all without Mansfield.
As soon as Mansfield hit the floor, they broke through to beat the Mandurah Magic and have never looked back, winning nine of 13 matches since to give themselves a genuine chance of reaching the playoffs.
Mansfield’s ability to play as the ultimate floor general in the league has been a big reason in that run of form for the Redbacks.
While her numbers are impressive at 14.1 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds a game, it’s the poise she provides, the competitive spirit she gives at both ends, her determination on every possession whether defensive or offensive, and how she makes her teammates better that is standing out.
Allen always knew she would be an exciting addition for the Redbacks, but she has exceeded those expectations.
“She is everything I was hoping for when we signed her, absolutely. The way she sees the floor and brings other players into the game just makes her such an elite player,” he said.
“The opposition have been doubling her off the on-ball screens and she still has the composure to make good decisions to create for us and not turn the ball over.
“Obviously she has high expectations of herself as well but she’s more than meeting our hopes and I really wish her all the best going forward. She has the Australian camp coming up and if she carries this sort of momentum and form going forward, hopefully it all bodes well for her.”
While the Redbacks did lose their opening six games of the season without Mansfield or Morgan Pullins for any of them, Allen always felt things could turn quickly in terms of results because he was relatively happy with a lot of the performances.
They have now turned that around well, but still have their work cut out to reach the playoffs and Allen will be imploring his group to continue to try to improve every time they hit the floor.
“I think even in our slow start you could see the potential there. We weren’t losing by big margins most of the time and we were competitive in most of our games so you could see it building,’ Allen said.
“It’s just kept growing and growing, and we just have to keep matching that. The challenge for us now is to not be happy with where we’re at, it’s to keep stepping it up to the next level.
“If you are happy with where you’re at, you won’t keep improving and everyone else will get better around you. So that’s our challenge and we have created some wonderful momentum for ourselves so it can’t stop here.”
Allen has had to bide his time patiently for an opportunity to be a head coach in the Women’s SBL. While it’s had its challenges so far in 2019, Allen wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.
“It’s everything and then some that I thought it would be. It’s a challenge and it’s an exciting challenge. Having a team in my own right, it’s more about the group you put together with Michelle, Josh and Lara,” Allen said.
“I might be the head coach, but it’s about the coaching group and I believe the leadership group is important in that too. It is everything I expected and more, but I’m enjoyed everything that goes along with that.”