SOMETIMES you live and die by the culture and atmosphere provided from the players you bring in and for Joondalup Wolves coach Ben Ettridge, he couldn’t be more impressed with what Kevin Davis, Earnest Ross and Ridell Camidge are providing as they chase another Grand Final berth.
As you can see across the league, sometimes when you bring in overseas players as talented as they are, sometimes if they aren’t showing the right attitude and aren’t helping the culture of the club, or in fact dragging it down, then sometimes you are better off without them even if you become a little less talented.
History suggested that Ettridge and the Wolves have generally done a good job in selecting their imports and while Ross is classified as an unrestricted player, he without doubt is import quality and his combination with Davis and Camidge is working a treat.
It’s not only what they are providing on the court either, which is significant with the trio combining to average 51.8 points, 20.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists through the regular season for the Wolfpack.
But creating a winning team is about more than just numbers, it’s about creating that right culture and without doubt Davis, Camidge and Ross have fully brought into what the Wolfpack is all about.
They have fitted in seamlessly with that core of Seb Salinas, Trian Iliadis, Rob Huntington, Damian Matacz, Ben Ironmonger, Reece Maxwell, Sean Easther, and the emerging Lachlan Strelein, Bailey Basso and Sam Curtis.
For Davis, that wasn’t much of a challenge given he was part of the Wolves championship in 2015 but for Ross and Camidge, they have been instrumental on and off the court in Joondalup again finish with the regular season championship, and now winning through to the semi finals.
The Wolves finished the regular season with a 20-6 record to claim top spot and the only three losses they suffered over their last 16 matches were against quality opponents in the form of Rockingham, Lakeside and Geraldton.
Ultimately, it was an improved second half performance in that loss to the Buccaneers that Ettridge felt set the tone for the Wolfpack to get back to top form to finish the regular season with and then to beat the Kalamunda Eastern Suns in two games of the quarter finals to set up the Grand Final rematch in the semi finals against the Perry Lakes Hawks.
“We are loving playing together, that’s what is standing out. We have really come together and the loss up in Geraldton was the one that really brought us together when we put it together for the last 20 minutes after our worst first half in the long time,” Ettridge said.
“Since then, we’ve actually really started to get around each other and enjoyed playing together and are looking for each other. EJ has now become the third option and when he gets the ball, no one can stop in.
“Everyone else is doing their jobs and we are putting EJ in his spots. Ridell was outstanding as well, Ben Ironmonger is really starting to play well and you forget that this time last year he was on one leg and had to go in for arthroscopic surgery the week after the Grand Final.
“I really love the way we are getting around it, everyone is doing their job and we are looking forward to the next couple of weeks.”
As good as any core group of local players are at any SBL club, often success is determined by the impact both in terms of production and culture that your import players provide.
As far as that goes, Ettridge couldn’t feel luckier with what he has at his disposal in 2019 in the form of Ross, Davis and Camidge.
“They are all different too. Kev is quiet, Dell is quiet and EJ has a really big personality, but for him to put his ego in his back pocket and not need the ball in his hands all the time but have it in the last 10 seconds, that’s a credit to him,” he said.
“The benefit is that these guys know how to play and guys can step in to do their job, and as long as you are playing hard and doing the right things, that’s what we are looking for. We couldn’t ask for three better blokes at the moment and now we want them to help us win three more games.”
Any time you lose to a team in a Grand Final, it’s only natural to have a chip on your shoulder when you play them the next season. Whether they talk about it amongst themselves or not, that’s undoubtedly the case with the Wolves ahead of taking on the Hawks.
That’s without question magnified when you have lost the past three Grand Finals and when two of them have been to the same coach, Matt Parsons.
On the opposite side of that, there’s the obvious outstanding performance by the Wolves to be such a consistent on-going force that they’ve reached four straight Grand Finals in the Men’s SBL.
Now the Wolves get the chance to take on a Parsons’ coached team in a three-game series rather than a one-off Grand Final and time will tell what difference that makes.
But for now, Ettridge is looking forward to the challenge that Perry Lakes present and can’t wait for the series to start.
“I can’t wait to get it underway. You have to play the best team in the league at some stage and if you are good enough to get them, then you are good enough to get them so that’s what we are looking forward to,” Ettridge said.
“They’re a tough match up but there is only one ball on the floor so we have to make sure that whether it’s Clint, Redhage, Sovine, Smithers or whoever has it, we are locked in and doing a job. We’re looking forward to it and we’ll see how we go.
“I guess you do get to make some adjustments but one of the things that we’ve tried to do these playoffs is rather than wait for the game to be over, we are trying to make those adjustments at quarter-time or half-time.
“We’ll need to be switched on because someone like Clint Steindl can turn a game on its head in four possessions. One possession taken off and Ryan Smith hits a triple or Brian Carlwell can go and outwork you.
“It’s about sticking to what you do and doing it well, and having that extra little bit of games to get things right in but at the same time you don’t want to give them too many chances.”
What changes are made during the season or needed to be made by either side remains to be seen, but overall the importance for Ettridge is that the Wolves stick to what works best for them and to not necessarily wait for the end of each game to make the necessary adjustments.
“For us it’s the John Wooden adage where the process takes care of the result. What we’ve tried to do is improve little things and play a little bit differently, and add different pieces to try and give you what you need,” he said.
“But you don’t make wholesale changes, the motivation is that the boys are playing for each other and they want to win a championship. For some of them this might be their last season and they’ve come back because they didn’t get one last year.
“Their motivating themselves which is what you want and they are all buying into that one goal to get that fifth banner hanging up. That’s what they are working towards and they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want that.”
The Wolfpack were without Trian Iliadis for the second game in the quarter finals against the Suns, but he will be back to face the Hawks in Game 1 on Saturday night at HBF Arena.
“He was away for work this weekend so he’ll be back for us. We’ve been able to manage his workload and Seb’s workload throughout the year,” Ettridge said.
“We’ve seen the benefit from that with Seb’s last two games of the year probably being these last two in the playoffs. That’s really good for us and we are fit and raring ready to go.”