GERALDTON Buccaneers coach Dayle Joseph isn’t shying away from his team’s playoff struggles and is hoping that finishing the regular season with four consecutive road games could help them once they reach the finals even if it means three straight road trips.
The Buccs once again look on track to finish in the top four at the end of the 2019 regular season but that is par for the course as they regularly are among the strong teams in the competition season upon season.
Over the past decade, the Buccaneers made a Grand Final in 2014 but have lost in semi finals in 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017, and in quarter finals in 2013, 2015 and last year despite finishing the regular season top of the table.
So when Joseph returned to the head coaching role in 2019 he knew they couldn’t expect to keep doing the same things come playoff time and heading into the finals and expecting different results.
When he saw the fixture come out, that’s why he was actually relatively glad to see that they would be finishing the regular season with two straight road trips which sees them play the South West Slammers and Mandurah Magic in Round 19, and the Lakeside Lightning and Warwick Senators in Round 20.
The Buccs now enter this stretch of four road games sitting in third position with a 16-6 record and they could still finish anywhere from first to sixth depending on how they go, and how other results fall.
But Joseph hopes that it serves as strong preparation for the playoffs even with the likelihood of then playing Game 1 of their quarter-final series also away from Geraldton.
However, with the likelihood of his full squad being available including Marcus Alipate and Alex Ducas, Joseph is looking forward to that as a challenge to close out the regular season.
“We looked at the fixturing as a good thing thinking that with our struggles in recent playoff scenarios we have struggled to win away,” Joseph said.
“Maybe this is good preparation for us going into playoffs because it gives us the chance to be on the road away from home with the boys together and just playing basketball. We’re hoping that will help us.
“We’ll work on keeping the guys fresh, but I’ll challenge anyone to tell any of our guys to rest and sit out a game. They are pretty competitive players and they’ll want to play all four of those matches unless there’s someone with an injury.
“Hopefully by then we are ready to go with our full squad and nobody with any niggling injuries so it will serve as good preparation for finals for us.”
Joseph knows that ideally they need to win these last four road matches to finish as high up on the table as they can, but entering this double road trip he is happy with the way they are placed coming off the thrilling win to close their home regular season against the Joondalup Wolves.
“All games are pretty big for us now and every game from here on in is going to be pretty important, even when we come up against Slammers and Mandurah who are out of the contest, we’ll still be pretty desperate to win those games,” he said.
“I think we are pretty happy with where we are placed. Ultimately the goal at the start is to make the playoffs and once you’ve consolidated that, our next goal is to try and finish in the top four and that’s what we’re aiming to do still because it’s quite open. That means we have four big games left if we want to finish in one of those top four spots.”
Liam Hunt is in his second season in the SBL with the Buccaneers following his college career at High Point University in California having split his time growing up between Geraldton and San Anselmo.
It was at the Buccs in the SBL where his father Dan created quite the legacy playing 382 matches which saw him average 16.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.6 blocks along the way while being part of the club’s lone championship in 2000.
So Liam grew up idolising his father and now he is getting to follow in his footsteps in Geraldton where he is putting in a tremendous 2019 season cementing himself as one of the best bigs in the competition.
While Hunt had a good first campaign in 2018, he has gone to another level in 2019 with his game, with the shape he is in and there’s no question he is a genuine MVP candidate.
He is averaging 15.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game while shooting at 57 per cent from the field, 28 per cent from three-point territory and 64 per cent from the foul line.
With such a good inside and outside game for a big man who likes the physicality, and now with both the bulk and mobility to play with athleticism and strength, he is a standout in the SBL and would be more than capable of making an impact in the NBL.
Joseph certainly echoes that and believes any NBL club would be happy to have him on board given everything that he brings.
“I believe he is one of the best big men in the league. If you were picking someone to pick to come and play on your team, he is a big guy who can defend anyone on the inside, he has proved this year with his fitness improvement that he can defend anyone on the outside,” Joseph said.
“He can shoot the three as long as he doesn’t take a lot of shots from out there. I think he can go a long way and if someone was to give him an opportunity, I see no reason why he can’t play at the next level.”
The Buccs did make a change with imports earlier this season too with DeAngelo Isby coming in for Willie Conner.
While Isby’s numbers of 22.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists look good but Joseph expects him to continue getting better.
“He is still adapting a bit to be fair and he’s struggling with the game a little bit,” he said.
“And with people coming in and out a little bit he’s had to play some different roles which he’s struggled a little bit with. But I think he does give us something that we lacked earlier in the year so we think there’s still more to come from D-Lo.”
Joseph also has the benefit of two of the SBL’s all-time greats still leading the way. With 815 games between them, Aaron Ralph and Matt Wundenberg continue to set the standard for the Buccs.
“They push everybody along at training and there’s always those players around who you hate to play against, but you love to play with,” Joseph said.
“They are probably two of those guys for sure who you wouldn’t want them playing against you, but you love to have on your team.”