WHETHER it’s his kids being a bit older or the incredible bond he feels in this playing group or that he remains the SBL’s great rebounder without rival, Jarrad Prue’s return the last 18 months has delivered more than he hoped irrespective if it ends with a championship.
Prue had already put together one of the great SBL careers when he decided to initially retire at the end of the 2015 already the all-time leading rebounder and a three-time championship winner with the Lightning.
But he had that urge to return after two years out of the game and he just couldn’t say no in early 2018 when new Lakeside coach Dave Daniels sat down with him and asked him to make a return because they needed his experience, leadership, size and rebounding.
Prue might have been reluctant at first but he quickly realised he made the right call and after he had a terrific 2018 season before the Lightning bowed out in the quarter finals to the eventual champion Perry Lakes Hawks.
He was always going to then continue in 2019 and what a decision that’s proven to be as he has continued to extend his lead as the league’s all-time best rebounder by averaging another 18.1 a game while helping the Lightning to the semi finals after beating the Goldfields Giants in two games.
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It’s not as if the season hasn’t had its hiccups for Prue including knee, hamstring and heart complaints early in the piece.
But he’s warmed into things nicely including 63 rebounds in one double-header weekend and now is excited to be involved in semi-final action again starting this Saturday night in Geraldton against the Buccaneers.
“It’s pretty exciting at this time of the year. Obviously I haven’t played in a semi-final since 2014 so it has been a bit of a wait for us and there’s been some time between drink,” Prue said.
“It’s an exciting time, the feeling around the club is really positive and everyone is feeling good about how we are going. The vibe is upbeat after those two tough games in the quarter finals, but I think we’ve built a lot of momentum in the back half of the season.
“In the first half of the year there was a bit of injury and availability disruption, but we’ve really built some momentum now and we are gelling at the right time of the year. It’s a pretty upbeat and exciting feeling about what’s to come.”
Prue has been part of some remarkable teams as Lakeside including the three he won championships with, but he can never recall a playing group having a tighter bond that what this one does and that’s why he’s now enjoying his basketball more than ever.
“This team is a lot of fun to be part of and I see fun as not just being about the 40 minutes when you are playing games,” Prue said.
“Obviously that part of it is exceptionally fun with the way that the ball moves and the guys shoot the lights out, but to me I look at it more in terms of when I’m at my age and where I’m at in life, the fun comes from the banter, the general camaraderie around the group and the fun we have by being in everyone’s presence.
“There is such positivity across the group for each other which is a fairly unique situation. People just enjoy being around each other and with the road trips even, the positivity of everyone getting to spend more time together has been unique.”
Now that the Lightning are only three wins away from a championship in 2019, Prue would be lying if he said it hadn’t crossed his mind and it would be a remarkable feat, but it’s not something he feels will define this season being a success or not.
“I’m not trying to sound cliché here, but I do try not to look that far ahead. Obviously the Buccs are a very strong team and beyond that we the Hawks and Wolves are two very strong teams,” he said.
“Having been there a couple of times before and knowing how amazing it is to win and how great this bunch of guys are, you do think that would be an amazing way to finish the season.
“But for me, win or lose and no matter what happens on the court, this year has been a massive success knowing that each individual person that has been part of this squad are all better people now than they were eight months ago.
“To me whatever happens on the court, what has really been amazing to witness is seeing these young men grow together. Winning would be icing on the cake but it won’t define the season or our club.”
Remarkably up until earlier this season when Prue suffered a hamstring injury that led to him missing five games, he had never missed a game through injury in a career that at that point had spanned 362 matches.
But that hamstring complaint was on the back of a pre-season knee injury and then upon his return Prue had a heart scare so it was quite the eventful start to 2019 for the now 37-year-old.
“For someone who has been very fortunate to not have many injuries for however many years I’ve been playing, it was a bit of a shock at the start of this year,” Prue said.
“I hurt my MCL in pre-season and it was probably touch and go if I would be ready for Round 1, but that was actually my 350th game for Lakeside and I got up for that knowing my knee wasn’t really quite right.
“I played for a couple of weeks but all the muscles around the knee were affected and I probably shouldn’t have been playing which led into the hamstring injury. I missed a few weeks with that and that was the first time I’ve actually missed a game of basketball through injury ever.
“Then in the first game back from that against East Perth where we had a shocker as a team, I felt a bit funny during the game and tight in the chest, but I didn’t think much of it. Then I woke up the next day on Mother’s Day and wasn’t feeling 100 per cent my wife and mum both insisted I go to the hospital.
“I did that and it turned out I had an irregular heartbeat and had to basically get knocked out, have my heart reset and had to go to a cardiologist. Everything is absolutely fine now and there are no long-term ramifications, but it was quite a scare at the time.
“I had three health issues there to start the season but since then I’ve been OK and that’s why it took me a while to get into the year from a fitness perspective. It has just been full steam ahead since then and I’ve been able to build that conditioning in the tough back end of the year that we had.”
Given Prue is having another remarkable rebounding season where he’s added another 419 to his career total of 6985 in his 381 games, it’s easy to forget that he actually sat out the 2016 and 2017 seasons and was happy in retirement.
But he is more than happy now with his decision to return.
“I had no expectations when I came back last year in terms of how I would go personally and how the team would go, but for me you can’t have success as an individual without being in the right environment and having the right people around you,” he said.
“And then having the support at home of my wife and the kids has really helped mentally and the impact Dave has had at the club with his positive influence on me has been huge.
“His coaching style has had to adapt to a player that it’s fair to say has a fairly unique skillset and the limited offensive side has meant he’s had to tailor his approach.
“I think the way he’s gone about it has allowed me to highlight my strengths and at the same time, not necessarily highlight my deficiencies. That’s helped a lot I think.”
Prue continues to put in some performances that you can just do nothing but shake your head at too including a double-header in Round 19 where he pulled in 36 rebounds in a Friday night’s two-point win over Kalamunda and then 27 more the next night in a two-point win over Perry Lakes.
While he does take pride in his rebounding, he doesn’t necessarily focus on the numbers.
“You kind of have a rough idea how many you’ve had, but that first night I did feel like I had a few more than normal. But because the game was so close you aren’t necessarily thinking too much about that because you are concentrating on worry about trying to win the game,” Prue said.
“So when it’s in a close game like that the number of rebounds is the last thing on your mind even though you have a fair idea you have. But you just focus on the next play and in that first game we were lucky that Jobi hit a big shot near the end that got us over the line.”
Prue tends to judge himself harshly and despite the fact that his rebound is regularly earning his team extra possessions and denying the opposition second shots, he is always looking for things to do better.
“To an extent you acknowledge that some of the second shots are because of your offensive rebounding, but I guess I’m a bit of a hard marker and am my own biggest critic,” he said.
“I try to focus on how I can help the team more than I am and what I can do to make the team better as opposed to talking about how great I’m doing with the rebounding. It’s more about what more can I do to either continue the team going well or make us go even better.”
Now turning his attention to the semi-final battle with Geraldton, it’s a rematch of the 2014 series that the Buccs beat the Lightning in to advance to the Grand Final while it also provides Prue one more chance to battle with Buccs skipper Mat Wundenberg.
“I’ve obviously had a lot of great battles against Geraldton over the years and I think I’ve played against Mat Wundenberg more than any other people,” Prue said.
“We’ve played them in three finals series before this and obviously they are a powerhouse of the league and they always have been since I’ve been playing.
“We played them a couple of times this year and have gone alright against them, but obviously finals are a different beast and playing up in a hostile environment in Geraldton is always challenging.
“It’s one of those challenges that we are all excited about but at the same time we know we are going to have to be at our best to beat them.”
Speaking of playing against Wundenberg, Prue has the utmost respect for the man who has now played 434 games for Geraldton and pulled in 4035 of his own rebounds to sit fourth on that all-time list behind Prue, Al Erickson and Dan Hunt.
“Whether or not this series is the last time he plays against Wundenberg remains to be seen, but he’ll always rate him up there as his greatest opponent.
I have a lot of respect for Mat in the way he goes about his basketball and the way he has served that club, and that community for so many years,” Prue said.
“The amount of time commitment that it would take to play for those regional teams with the amount of road trips every third week is enormous. We talk about dealing with two trips a year, but those guys do it so much more and the commitment he has provided to that club is huge.
“I have a lot of respect for him as a player and person, and hopefully that goes both ways and he goes about it in the right way. He plays hard, but he plays fair and it’s fair to say that we have that respect, but during that 40 minutes of the game it’s a battle that’s for sure.
“You never know if this might be the last time we play each other too, I don’t know if either of us know what next year holds. It’s funny in a way, but at the same time I already thought I had stopped playing at the end of 2015 and thought I was done.
“You never know what the future is going to hold but we’ve probably played against each other about 30 times by now, so we have plenty of history together.”
Seeing his children now being a little older and being able to embrace the fact that he is playing basketball at a high level has been another great bonus for Prue’s return to Lakeside the past two years.
“Obviously my parents and wife have been supportive of my career the whole time but really seeing the kids now embrace it has been really special. My son James is now seven and my daughter Zoe is four and particularly James, he really gets it a lot more and he loves being around it,” Prue said.
“Even last year after games when we won he was scared to come into the changerooms, but now after a win he’ll be in there before I am ready to sing the song with the boys. He just absolutely loves it and it’s amazing seeing the look on his face.
“But to me the biggest thing has been how all the players treat him like he’s their little brother. Seeing how they treat him and embrace him to me has been one of the biggest positive. My daughter also seems to enjoy it but I think she enjoys the colouring in more than the game itself at this point.”