IT would be fair to say that Dave Daniels has made quite the positive impact at the Lakeside Lightning over the past two years and while he has a remarkably talented and well-balanced squad to work with, the fact he likes them so much as people makes working with them such a pleasure.
Daniels arrived at Lakeside to take over as coach for the 2018 Men’s SBL season with a strong background firstly as a player who represented Canada with distinction and since has spent time working both at Athletes in Action and at Colorado Christian College, Northwest Nazarene University and Point Guard College.
So he arrived at Lakeside with strong credentials and even with a past history with the Lightning as part of Athletes in Action but neither he nor the club and church could predict just how much of a positive impact he would have.
The results on the court are obvious with the Lightning doing well to push the eventual champion Perry Lakes Hawks in last year’s playoffs to three games and now with one round of the 2019 regular season remaining, they sit on top of the table currently on a nine-game winning streak.
It’s hard to imagine Daniels not feeling like he has his dream team together as well. He has Michael Vigor and Jarrad Prue up front, Jobi Wall as one of the best three men in the competition and then a backcourt made up of Jack Isenbarger, Rowan Mackenzie and Kyle Armour.
There’s then good depth coming off the bench too with Ben Lee, Josh Davey, Liam Hislop, Nick Palleschi and Jake Whately.
But it’s Daniels’ beaming personality and genuineness to care about anyone he comes in contact with that has made him already such a popular figure at Lakeside and his family have fully embraced the environment too with wife Vicki and 15, 12 and 10-year-old daughters settling in tremendously.
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The fact that Daniels and his family are so happy at Lakeside is no doubt helping him perform as well as he is as a coach to have his team on top of the table on top of being named the Men’s SBL Coach of the Year for 2018.
With basketball and life at Lakeside going so well, there’s very little for the Canadian representative at the 2000 Sydney Olympics to complain about.
“If anything I’m just happier than I was this time last year when we had the same conversation because we are more settled with the life here,” Daniels said.
“My family is really happy and it’s been a really neat thing with Kyrah, my oldest, making the State team so getting to experience that and for my wife to go up there with her with the other parents and coaches.
“Then just the community here at Lakeside from m direct supervisor, Steve, to Anthony and everyone else they are just good people that I really trust. When you have a chance to work under people that you respect and trust, it makes such a difference. I know a lot of coaches say this, but I just really love my guys.
“We’ve got a good bunch of guys who enjoy being together and enjoy being coached, and have great leadership with Jarrad, Kyle, Vigs and the imports. They are mature men that understand basketball but also have a feeling of life and what’s important too. They are just a joy to be around.”
With the group he is working with at the Lightning, Daniels certainly wouldn’t change anything about the team he’s taking into the finals in 2019.
Having the strong leaders like Prue, Vigor and Armour – all SBL championship winners, two tremendous imports in Isenbarger and Wall and exciting emerging talent led by Mackenzie, you can certainly understand why.
“We’re pretty balanced. We have got five guys who are averaging in the mid-teens now in their scoring average which I’m sure makes us hard to scout. And we honestly have four different guys who could have 30 any given night, maybe five,” Daniels said.
“I think that’s really fun and I do like our balance. We have a good mix of guys who can shoot it and drive it. Michael Vigor has been a great addition, he is just a consummate team guy and his IQ and the pace he plays at is just elite, and he can score, he can pass, he can rebound and he defends.
“He is just a quality guy and I didn’t really know him until the last few months, but I love having him and he was the perfect last piece to add to this team.”
Lakeside currently sits on top of the SBL table with a nine-game winning streak including two stunning wins by a combined three points last weekend against Kalamunda and Perry Lakes ahead of finishing the regular season this weekend away to Rockingham and at home to Geraldton.
That’s impressive enough, but the fact that Daniels feels they still have improvement in them should be a scary prospect for the rest of the competition.
“I don’t know if we will get a lot better, but I do think we will continue to improve and it’s interesting because sometimes the winning and losing can be a little misrepresentative of how you’re playing,” he said.
“But I do think we are taking some steps forward and I like our group. There’s five or six teams in the league right now who could win the whole thing right now, and I think we’re one of them, and over the next four or five weeks we’ll find out exactly where we are in the mix of that.”
What Daniels did want to add to his Lightning team from last season was a dynamic and experienced point guard. He saw what his team was capable early in 2018 when Mason Bragg was on board so he was after someone that could push the tempo to get their offence flowing.
There’s no doubt that Armour has been able to bring that to his group in 2019, but he has provided so much more too and Daniels couldn’t be happier having him running his team.
“He is just so competitive and he wants to win so bad, and I love that about him. He has been fantastic defensively for us especially and I think that’s where we have turned the corner the last four or five weeks, we’ve really started to defend and he’s our centre piece,” Daniels said.
“He guards four spots for us, he really does, and he’s just tough and he plays fast and he is continuing to find that balance of us needing him to score and make plays for other people. Him being able to do both and then play both ways like he does, it’s fantastic.”
The other big bonus for Lakeside in 2019 has been just how well sharpshooting import Isenbarger has come back from his devastating broken leg suffered last season.
It was such a severe break that returning to the court was never a guarantee, but by November Daniels had a good feeling that not only would Isenbarger be back, but he would return to the outstanding player he was prior to the injury.
But a setback with another hairline fracture in the same leg delayed his start to the 2019 season and created some doubts, but once he returned after missing the opening eight games there’s been no looking back.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m surprised that he has come back how he has, but his character is just one in a billion. He’s a fighter, he’s tough and we obviously really connected last year and built such a friendship so we stayed in touch when he was back home rehabbing,” he said.
“He continued to send me updates and videos so I was always up to date on his recovery. I would say that in about November I had a really good feel that he was going to be fine to play. But then when he got back, he suffered another fracture in the first week of training.
“He was ready to go for Day 1 when he arrived but then he got another hairline fracture in the first week he was here in early February. That’s when I wasn’t too sure if he could make it back but he wouldn’t let anything stop him and he is just such a good man.
“Then on the court for us, he is such a great scorer and is probably too unselfish in some ways but he can shoot it and make plays for other people, can play the one or two equally well while Kyle can do the same, and even Rowan can as well.
“I’m so spoilt with our imports, him and Jobi are as good a people as you will ever meet and they are all about the team, and will do whatever is necessary. And then they can both really shoot it too, which I’m a little partial too.”
Given how well both life and basketball is going for Daniels and his family by being involved with Lakeside, it’s hard to imagine him not remaining on board in 2020 and he hopes that can be confirmed before too long.
“We are having conversations about it now so I think it looks really promising. We are just working through some of the fine details with it and I think it’s been a real win-win,” Daniels said.
“We absolutely love it here and I’d like to think we have been good for Lakeside too. We are leaning in that direction and we’re just working through the details of it now. Hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll know where we are at.”