IT is difficult to imagine any coach getting more out of the Cockburn Cougars the past three years than Adam Nener with the resources he’s had to work with and he’ll always be proud of the famous Cockburn fight his group has continued to show under him.
On the back of his own 246-game career in the SBL and coaching apprenticeship at Willetton, Nener took over as coach of the Cougars after they won the championship under Matt Parsons in 2016.
But from that title winning team Najee Lane, Sheldon McIntyre, Marcus Goode, Dan Thomas, Travis Hayto and Rhett Della have all moved on.
Nener did a terrific job getting Cockburn back to the playoffs in 2017 and pushing the Joondalup Wolves to three games in the quarter finals while the last two years have been a grind despite the players available continuing to fight valiantly.
The Cougars did a good job just to stay in the playoff race for most of 2018 and now in 2019, they’ve had their backs against the wall virtually all season but have remained competitive and Nener deserves enormous credit for that.
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Cockburn has been without an import for all but 15 games this season and when they had one, Eric Milam averaged 7.3 points and 3.8 rebounds which was probably half the production in reality Nener and the Cougars were hoping for, and needed, from him.
Jaarod Holmes has fought manfully all season as undersized centre while Gavin Field has only further enhanced his legacy as one of the greatest ever SBL players while experienced players Seva Chan, Steven Van Lit, Jake Harris and the emerging Jakob Knight have done what they can.
Hayden Bell and Matt Vinci have been handy picks up for Cockburn too but it’s hard to not picture what this Cougars team might have been able to do with those pieces topped up by two solid imports and had Julian Pesava been available for more than the four games he’s played so far.
Despite everything he has been up against, the Cougars have continued to fight hard, compete every night and make themselves hard to beat even if the current record of 6-17 still isn’t what Nener was hoping for.
“We like to think that we play with some Cockburn pride and I think that’s what has got us over the line a couple of times the last few weeks,” Nener said.
“You can’t fault the boys’ effort and one thing we had this year was that we knew we’d be undermanned but we didn’t want to come out of games being outhustled our outworked.
“It’s pretty hard to play with that mentality for a whole season, but we’ve done it well for the most part and you can’t fault the efforts of the boys.”
Just when the Cougars were boosted with the return of championship-winning guard Pesava who has gone on to deliver 22.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists the past four games, it coincided with a European holiday for Holmes and Chan, and the club parting ways with Milam.
That meant that for the past five games, the Cougars were without their starting centre and point guard who took 374 games of experience with them.
The fact that they were able to upset the Warwick Senators in that stretch with such an undersized and understrength team that Field was having to play as a centre only further illustrates the admirable job Nener continues to do to get the best out of what he has at his disposal.
While these recent weeks have put in perspective a lot of things for Nener, without question he has proven he can coach and get the best out of his players over the past three years.
“It’s been extremely tough obviously the last few weeks, but it has given other guys opportunities. It has been a very interesting season to say the least,” Nener said.
“The challenges have kept on coming and coming, but seeing the younger guys take their chances and have the support of Dave and Mike has been huge for me. My assistant coaches have really helped me a lot.
“It’s been a huge learning a curve and I think I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the boys. Having assistant coaches like I’ve had has been so huge. Dave Moreschi has been unreal, he’s been really good and Mike’s really knowledgeable.
“We all kind of see the game differently which helps when you are coaching but they have been great. The boys have always played their hearts out, it’s a shame that we can’t get that support of having some imports and recruits which every club is dealing with.
“There’s been some great imports this year and some OK imports so it can be a bit of a lottery. But I’ve really enjoyed the last two years overall and am now looking on to see what happens in the future.”
What the increasing spots available in the team has provided is a chance for other players step up which Nener has enjoyed seeing happen, but he is hoping to have Holmes and Chan back for the final three games of the season against the Wolves, Eagles and Redbacks.
“Guys like Jake Harris and Jake Knight have really stepped up and it’s given them an opportunity, but everyone wants to win and whether or not the guys want to take the next step or not, it’s up to them. We’ll try finishing up the season the best we can now with whoever we have on the floor,” he said.
“Seva only got back at midnight on Saturday and Jaarod only got back an hour or two before the game but they’ll get a week of training in this week.
“I don’t know how many waffles, crepes or whatever they’ve been eating while they were away but we’ll see how they go and it will be good to have them back. There’s no reason why they can’t come back to play and we’ll look to finish off the season pretty solid with them back in the team.”
What Nener can’t speak more highly of from his time coaching the Cougars is the ever present work of Gavin Field no matter how many minutes he’s asked to play or what role he has been asked to fill.
The Cougars captain has had another standout season putting up 22.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists and Nener just can’t speak more highly of the 246-game veteran.
“I think he is one of the most respected Australians in the league from other teams and coaches because they know what kind of job he does, and what he means to Cockburn,” Nener said.
“It would be great to get a bit more support around him and maybe prolong his career a couple more years instead of playing him almost 40 minutes every night.
“It’s tough for him but he is just Cockburn through and through, and I’m super proud of the guy for what he does and the way he’s handled himself this year. He is a great guy on and off the court and the guys just look up to him so much as well.”
One player who the Cougars can certainly build around moving forward as well is Julian Pesava. While Nener would have liked to get more out of him than the four games he has so far, he couldn’t be more impressed with how far he’s grown his all-round game.
“Jules has really worked on his defence. We all knew he could score the ball and get rebounds based on what he did previously, but he’s come back a better defensive player and a better all-round player,” Nener said.
“He came back a little bit injured and while it would have been great to have him back earlier, it’s great that he’s shown glimpses of the player he can be moving forward now. It will be exciting to see now what he does in the off-season.”