WORKING on having a greater team chemistry has been a big focus of Geraldton Buccaneers even if that means having slightly less individual brilliance, and coach Dayle Joseph hopes it continues to pay off as they try to close out their quarter-final series with Warwick Senators.
The Buccs team of 2018 certainly wasn’t lacking for individual brilliance and they went on to finish the regular season in top spot, but come the first round they came up against a stronger and more determined Rockingham Flames outfit and lost in two games.
In the off-season, Ray Evans decided he didn’t want to continue as coach and Dayle Joseph was appointed his replacement with the focus to put together a team with greater cohesion even if not quite as much individual talent.
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That’s not to say it’s not a supremely talented team with Liam Hunt and Colter Lasher among the best players in the competition, Mat Wundenberg and Aaron Ralph remarkable warriors, and Marcus Alipate, Brendan Dinardo and Brayden Inger are more than handy.
Then the return of 18-year-old Geraldton local Alex Ducas before he heads to Saint Mary’s University has been the icing on the cake even with the Buccs this week parting ways with their second import of the season, with DeAngelo Isby now back home after he had previously replaced Willie Conner.
Sometimes making decisions to become a little less talented but have better team chemistry works out for the best as hard of a decision it is to make at the time, and that’s what the Buccs have done.
They have parted ways with Isby while already leading one-nil in their quarter-final match up with the Warwick Senators with Game 2 now to be played in Geraldton on Saturday night with them having the chance to advance to the semi finals.
Joseph’s focus when taking over coaching the Buccs this year was to have a better team balance that didn’t have to rely on their superstars having big nights and he’s happy with the way that depth is now coming together.
“What we’ve done this year is try to be a bit more team-orientated and just have trust in each other. I don’t think we need to rely on any one player to make big shots or have big nights for us to win,” Joseph said.
“Sometimes it’s Liam, sometimes it’s Alex, sometimes it’s Marcus, sometimes it’s Ralphy or Colter. They just need to trust each other and trust the system that we put in place that when the opportunities come, they’re ready to knock that shot down. That’s been the key a little bit this year for us.”
The return to Geraldton ahead of him continuing Australia’s remarkable tradition at St Mary’s of Ducas has also been a significant reason why the Buccs finished the regular season with some momentum and are now one win from the semi finals.
Ducas is just 18 years of age, but his last five games of the regular were outstanding and he produced another standout showing last Saturday night against the Senators, even if his extra minutes led to a lessening of the role of Isby.
But Ducas has more than earned those minutes and having seen him grow into the young man that he is now, Joseph couldn’t be happier to make Ducas a focal point of the Buccs’ championship push.
“That’s why he’s playing for Australia I guess at the under-19s and why he’s off to a pretty good college to start his career, but he has always been a good kid, Alex,” Joseph said.
“I’ve coached him since he was waist-high pretty much and he knows his basketball. He is one of those guys who can execute whatever you ask him to do it as well. He’s definitely a talent.
“I’ve been around him for a long time and have seen him develop, and what he brings to our team is exceptional. It’s not just in scoring, but his team work and he is a real smart kid.
“Some of those passes to get other people the ball when he’s not necessarily think of himself is pretty special. It’s a real bonus to be able to have him back with the team.”
The battle that Ducas is in the middle of having with another young star from Warwick, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, has also been fascinating and whether he rises for that challenge or not, Joseph is happy to let the pair go at it.
“He probably likes that challenge against Wani but Alex wants to perform every game so I don’t think it matters too much who he plays against,” he said.
“But I’m sure it’s a little bit of incentive just because they know each other so well and they know each other’s game pretty well. So that might be something that makes Alex pretty excited to go up against.”
Another player not receiving too much attention at the Buccs this season has been second-year import Colter Lasher. He has flown under the radar for much of the season but continues to deliver when Geraldton needs him most.
His season numbers are good at 17.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists a game, but Joseph is more than happy if people continue to undervalue him while he continues to deliver.
“I’d like to keep him under the radar if I can, I’m happy for people to not focus too much on him and let him perform at a high level,” Joseph said.
“But he is playing really well right now. We’ve talked weekly about his game and he knows, and we knew, that he wasn’t always at his best this season but he has still been our most consistent player.
“I would assume he is up in some MVP voting and stuff like that too even though he hasn’t played his best basketball. But we don’t care how he’s gone, we are happy with how he is playing right now and that’s all that matters.
“He puts a lot of work in and he’s a real professional, and he knows when he has to put in some extra work at times. I’m really proud of what he’s done to be playing how he is now.”
Now the Buccs are back on their home floor at Active West Stadium on Saturday night for Game 2 against the Senators, but Joseph knows better than to look beyond a team coached by Mike Ellis and that includes huge talent like Cody Ellis, Caleb Davis, Justin King, Rob Anshila, Ngor Manyang and Swaka Lo Buluk.
“We definitely aren’t treating Game 2 as a free hit. They showed what they are capable of in the first game, they just have to sustain that game they played for longer and things could be different for them, and for us,” he said.
“We’ll prepare for another tough game and I’m assuming they will try to make some adjustments and we’ll have to be ready for that. It was really good to get the confidence from winning this first game especially for our guys, they play with a lot of emotion which you see out there. When things go down they tend to take it to heart so a win gives us a lot of confidence.”
The Buccs had a strong contingent of travelling fans last Saturday night at Warwick Stadium but Joseph now can’t wait to get back home this weekend to play in front of the Geraldton locals.
“Hopefully we get our biggest crowd there of the year because we compete with other sports and concerts and stuff like that during the year, but hopefully being a final we get good support,” Joseph said.
“I think the other teams appreciate playing in front of big crowds too and they set themselves to be on the big stage a little bit. I think it might be an advantage for us in some ways being home, but either teams get up to play us at home too so they rise to the challenge.”