GREG Hire hopes that his enjoyment of playing in the SBL isn’t diminished to the point it can’t remain a priority, but right now his focus is on trying to bring Rockingham Flames a championship while seeing the state’s best young talent like Luke Travers and Wani Swaka Lo Buluk up close.
Despite retiring from the NBL at the end of this past season as a 243-game, four-time championship winner with the Perth Wildcats, Hire has remained committed to playing in the SBL with the Rockingham Flames and he remains quite the imposing force.
Despite having spent time away playing 3×3 basketball during the season which provided an unexpected career highlight of representing Australia at the World Cup, and having to juggle working, his family and promoting mental health awareness, Hire remains an SBL superstar.
In his 17 appearances for the Flames in 2019 in a team that has finished the regular season fourth ahead of a quarter-final battle with the Perry Lakes Hawks, Hire has been putting up some phenomenal numbers and averaging 17.4 points, 15.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists.
That doesn’t mean it has all been a smooth ride and with the point in his life Hire is at where work and family has to take a priority, the only reason he would continue to play in the SBL is if he’s enjoying it and if he feels as though his presence is making an impact in a variety of ways.
If there are things that take away from his enjoyment, he might have to reconsider moving forward because to say that he is even busier now that he’s not a professional basketball would certainly be a true statement.
“I’m obviously a competitive guy and whether I’m playing monopoly or SBL or 3×3 I hate losing and I’m not the sort of guy who at the back end of my career is just going to rock up and just think I’m going to get it done without giving my all,” Hire said.
“I’m obviously exerting a lot of energy and I’m passionate about wanting this team to grow and succeed so it is frustrating when things don’t go your way and take away from your enjoyment of playing.
“It does become tiresome because at the end of the day, I’m trying to come back to a grassroots level and give back a little bit to be thankful for where I got my start from.
“But I’m at the point now, where I’m in the real world working jobs, then I have things like 3×3 that come up, I have a family at home and I’m barely home as it is and then have that hour and-a-bit drive to Rockingham, so come the weekend you do want to be able to enjoy playing basketball otherwise there’s no real point keeping on doing it.”
While the Flames have had a good enough season to qualify for the finals from fourth spot, it has been quite the rollercoaster ride under new coach Ryan Petrik and a lot of that is simply because there has been scarcely few games where the whole squad has been available to play.
Despite that and the challenge in the quarter finals of the defending champion Perry Lakes and Hire’s only Wildcats running mate Shawn Redhage, Hire remains confident that the elusive first men’s championship for Rockingham isn’t beyond them in 2019.
“It’s been a bit of a frustrating season because obviously we have a wealth of talent but it’s proven tough to get everyone on the court together at the same time due to circumstances including me going away with 3×3,” he said.
“As we saw last year, from eighth we were able to get close to a Grand Final so it’s all about playing really good basketball at the right time. I’ve seen that with the Wildcats where once you start playing the right basketball, things can really come together.
“I have a lot of trust and faith in this group even though there’s some frustration because we’ve swept Wolves and Perry Lakes who are two of the better teams.
“We’ve proven we can beat quality sides but there’s then patches where we aren’t playing a full 40 minutes and whatever level you play at, you need to do that. Hopefully we can get our full squad together and make a run from here.”
One supremely talented young player back in the line-up for the Flames in time for the finals assault is Luke Travers who this week was just announced as a development player with the Perth Wildcats.
Clearly he has the tools to be more than a development player and could still end up attending college next year in the United States and it’s no stretch that with his remarkable all-round basketball skills and athletic ability that he could have an NBL future.
Hire is no better person to be around him to provide some guidance and he can’t wait to now be spending a finals series alongside him at Rockingham.
“We talk about getting key pieces back and Luke is a vital piece for us because obviously he has his athletic ability, but the difference of what makes guys special is their IQ and he’s one of the smartest guys I’ve played with,” Hire said.
“Sometimes when we are not shooting well our guys tend to get nailed to the three-point line, but he’s a guy because of his sheer athletic ability can slash through the lane and can rise up on other people. He’s another guy who sees the game a pass ahead of the next pass for the shot.
“He’s another guy who is limitless in his potential and he’s a guy who i believe has the right mindset which is something we can continue to refine with him. I think he’s a guy with NBA potential so hopefully he is able to reach what he wants to achieve.
“A big part for him is going to be taking care of his body and he is already getting some niggling injuries that creep in, and when he was in America he grew another inch or two again which is absolutely ridiculous.
“The one thing that was seen as his weakness was his shooting and that’s improved a lot so he is definitely a pretty exciting young talent.”
While Hire won’t be playing alongside him, he has seen the development of Wani Swaka Lo Buluk over the past 12 months when he was a development player at the Wildcats.
He’s now earned himself a full roster spot for the 2019/20 season on the back of his success as a point guard in the SBL with the Warwick Senators, and Hire is excited about what his future holds and continuing to help him grow as much as he can.
“The one thing that we have to establish is to take our time on him and not to expect him to do too much too soon. Just like last season, he’ll have moments to come in and be an impact player, but it is a huge step up from playing 30 seconds in a blowout game to playing consistent minutes,” Hire said.
“Obviously once he buys into the whole professional environment in terms of the weight room and then studying the game and all of that, he’ll only keep getting minute.
“But what it does is that it reinforces that the development pathway in WA is good because for a long time I was the only one who went through the development player system in the NBL.
“But now we’ve seen Rhys go through and Wani and hopefully we get a couple more in the next few years. It’s great to see that side of it, but I also think he will be fantastic.
“It will be tough for him to come in and make an immediate impact, but it does also give the opportunity for Clint to play more in the three and as Damo gets a little bit older, he could even not have to play as much as point guard.
“I’m excited about that and Wani is obviously a guy who as I transition into my next phase, I’ll be involved in the academy and he is one guy I’ll try to take under my wing and hopefully give him a little bit of guidance because he’s a great kid of exceptionally high character who is hugely talented.”
Perhaps the greatest joy this season by playing with Rockingham for Hire has been the ability to return to the court alongside former Wildcats captain and now his brother-in-law, Brad Robbins.
While injury has curtailed the impact Robbins has had on the court and might indeed stop him hitting the floor during the finals, the chance for their connection to grow even further is something special to Hire.
“For us it’s been great and I only wish the body of work he put in over pre-season got to pay off on the court,” Hire said.
“It was so bloody exciting to see and obviously he lost a ridiculous amount of weight in a short amount of time, and he was absolutely just being like the guy I first saw when I started my career at the Wildcats.
“He was moving so well defensively and coming off pick-and-rolls, and it’s obviously been frustrating for him because he holds himself to a high standard and I only wish his body had help up throughout the season.
“You can see his frustration as we spend that time driving down to Rockingham together and he’s battling these injuries and I just wish the league and basketball community had seen what he was, and was capable of which we saw in pre-season and still see in glimpses.
“But just having your best mate back on the court together, we are loving it. having someone I can share the drive down to Rockingham is great too so we can talk about SBL and our lives, and obviously he’s about to became a father for a second time any day now.
“It’s funny how it’s come full circle and never once would I have considered we could do this at this stage at our lives. We could have done it another time at another club but it didn’t turn out possible, but now because of Rockingham we’ve got that opportunity. It’s pretty special and it’s something that I hope we can continue.”