SOME of the faces might be different but for the second time in 12 months the Perry Lakes Hawks are firing when it matters most in the Men’s SBL and coach Matt Parsons is just as proud of their winning as he is of playing attractive basketball that people want to watch.
After Parsons’ first season in charge at Perry Lakes in 2017 was ravaged by injuries, they still did well to qualify for the finals from eighth spot and then push the minor premier Willetton Tigers to three tough games.
Then midway through 2018, it looked as though the Hawks might struggle to get things together once more just in terms of a string of bad luck that even continued into the playoffs when reigning MVP Jacob Holmen went down with a knee injury.
But the Hawks just clicked and once they were on a roll, they couldn’t be stopped on the way to the championship and they are now in similar form 12 months on.
There might not be Lochlan Cummings there this year, but the Hawks have added Shawn Redhage, Clint Steindl, Tevin Jackson and Kyle Sovine to the remaining core of Ben Purser, Ryan Smith, Brian Carlwell, Rob Cassir, Mitch Clarke and Cooper Hamilton.
On paper you could argue it’s a deeper, more experienced and talented team, and now the Hawks are in tremendous form to have beaten the Rockingham Flames in two games.
But what any team knows in the Men’s SBL is that you have to go through the Joondalup Wolves and that’s now the case for Perry Lakes heading into the semi finals starting with Game 1 at HBF Arena this Saturday night.
The Hawks were looking shaky and in a fight just to reach the playoffs at the midway point of last season before going on a stunning winning run to close the regular season and then beat both the Lakeside Lightning and Rockingham Flames in three games in the first two rounds of the playoffs heading into the Grand Final.
While they were never in quite as big a hole in 2019, they have finished the regular season in tremendous form and now after the two wins against Rockingham, have won nine of 10 games with the lone loss one by a point at the death to the Lakeside Lightning.
Parsons couldn’t be happier with the way his group is going and really it’s a group that is running themselves in a lot of ways.
“Any time you associate a winning streak with what we’ve got it’s a really good feeling. What really brings all that together and kind of makes us a really tough unit is the fact that we’ve closed out close games albeit we didn’t get that last Lakeside one,” Parsons said.
“The group itself is pretty together, they’re experienced and they have been there and seen a lot so nothing shocks them anymore. It’s just a matter of systems allowing them to continue to perform.
“At the end of the day I don’t do a lot, I just train them during the week and give them drills to do, and when it gets to the games, they are the ones who win it and they’re doing it together. They are winning and enjoying each other’s company so it’s a good brand to be part of.”
Not only are teams like the Hawks and Flames, and indeed the Wolves, playing attractive basketball but they are attracting big crowds both in Rockingham and then last Friday in Game 2 at Bendat Basketball Centre.
“We are putting bums in seats too. Minus a Grand Final, I’ve never seen people sitting in that top tier and that doesn’t happen during the regular season or previously in the playoffs,” he said.
“That was a big crowd there to see us against Rockingham and it’s because of the excitement that both teams play with and the unity that the supporters so, and those results justify the fans turning up to watch.”
Closing out the series against the Flames last Friday night was never going to be an easy task for Perry Lakes, and it wasn’t.
But in the end Clint Steindl caught fire midway through the second quarter to help them open a handy lead and then it was Shawn Redhage that came up huge with crafty moves inside to see Perry Lakes prevail and move into the semi finals.
Parsons couldn’t have been happier with not only that pair, but all of his squad to now enter the series against the Wolfpack having won nine of their previous 10 matches.
“As he’s always been, Shawn is just such a difficult match up because he can play the four, he can go down to the three and he’s too quick for the bigs and he can still hold his own with the guards as well,” Parsons said.
“We are really lucky with his versatility and Clint’s the same. He can defend one to four, and he is quick and is constantly moving on the floor which just constantly opens up space for people behind him.
“Those two have been phenomenal but you can’t take anything away from the performance from a young guy like Mitch Clarke who continues to build. He is showing that he can steady the ship when we need him to and make great decisions.
“Then with our bench unit, there’s Robbie Cassir, Tev Jackson, Kyle Sovine and all those guys have done a remarkable job so far this playoffs and when your starting five is performing to that standard, it makes it easier for our bench to perform. We got such an amazing contribution over that series.”
At the other end of the spectrum of his career than Redhage is Clarke. Already to have been a point guard on a championship winning team is a massive feather in his cap and he has certainly improved further in 2019.
Again as the starting point guard for Perry Lakes, Clarke has done a tremendous job of finding the right balance of creating for his supremely talented teammates and also when to be aggressive himself.
That saw him put up 8.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists throughout the season and then deliver two impressive showings in the quarter finals against the Rockingham Flames.
For now, he might have missed out on a development player spot for the Perth Wildcats but Parsons sees untapped potential in him.
“Mitch is just a hard worker. He’s never going to be a guy whose name will go up in lights, but he will always be active and he’s always going to do all the right things,” Parsons said.
“Mitch has a fantastic character, he’s just a competitor and it doesn’t matter whether he’s going up against a big guy or little guy, a guy with 300 games of experience or another young guy, and we’ve seen how fearless he is from his first game.
“He just loves the competition of it all and we are really proud of where he’s going and the development he’s going to make. I have no doubts he will be an NBL player one day and he’s aware of the reality of what he needs to do to get to that next level.
“He is still a distance away from doing it but he’s doing the right things, he is exposed to the Wildcats program now and it’s just a matter of him progressing and not finding a ceiling for himself. He will just keep doing the work.”
Parsons is now a dual championship winning coach and both his triumphs at Cockburn in 2016 and Perry Lakes in 2018 came courtesy of triumphing in Grand Finals against the Wolves.
What that means for this semi-final contest between the Hawks and Wolves remains to be seen, but it’s sure to ensure the Wolfpack’s motivation levels are at an all-time high to not lose to a team coached by him again.
But at the end of the day, no matter the opponents it’s a Grand Final berth at stake and Parsons knows that to get past the Wolves in a three-game series is going to take their very best.
“It’s just human nature and you remember that stuff, and often the more it hurts the more you remember it so I’m sure that in their preparation there will be quite a lot of emotional attachment to their performance against us,” Parsons said.
“But we are looking at it as a whole new year and we have done a really good job as a program to not think about last year too much, and I’m sure they have done the same thing. It will be a different series and this is a three-game series obviously and not a one-off game.
“Ben Ettridge has done a really good job making adjustments over a period of time and he gets his teams to Grand Finals because of the work they put in so we are expecting nothing less from the preparation he will put in against us.
“It’s like anything, you want to rise to the competitive level and I think we are good enough whoever we play. They have finished first on the ladder again this year and their history speaks for itself so we know what we are coming up against.
“You just have to play who is in front of you and they’ve done the job to finish first and they deserve to go in as favourites, but we don’t mind that underdog status.”