IT is a busy time in Darcee Garbin’s life with a potential Asia Cup coming up with the Australian Opals and the WNBL season on the horizon, but she remains as passionate about the Rockingham Flames as ever so all her focus right now is on trying to win a third SBL championship.
Aside from a short stint at the start of the 2018 season, Garbin is back playing full-time with the Flames for the first time since the semi-final loss in 2016 to the Willetton Tigers which denied them the opportunity of a championship three-peat.
In the time since, Garbin has won a WNBL championship at the Townsville Fire and has turned herself into one of the very best bigs in Australia who has already represented the Opals, and remains in the squad in contention to play at next month’s Asia Cup in India.
Garbin is right back into camp with the Opals ahead of the final squad being chosen on Saturday too, but right now all her attention is on Friday night’s SBL Grand Final against the Warwick Senators at Bendat Basketball Centre.
For Garbin, it’s a chance for her to become a triple championship winner all while having played fewer than 100 SBL games still but it’s her love and passion for the Rockingham Flames that continues to bring her back anytime an opportunity presents.
After growing up in Kambalda, near Kalgoorlie, Garbin and family moved to Rockingham when she was 15 and ever since then she has been proud to have the Flames as her home basketball club.
She played her first SBL game back in 2011 and by the time they won a championship in 2014, she was a star centre on the team that included Sami Whitcomb and a host of veterans to lead the way under coach Ryan Petrik.
Garbin has never forgotten her roots and having seen the work put in behind the scenes by Warren Boucaut and with Keegan Crawford now coaching the Women’s team, she couldn’t be happier to be back in 2019 and for what might lie ahead come Friday night.
“Rocko has been my home that we moved to when I was 15 and the club has been really good to me. Petto always kept in contact with me when I was away to make sure that if I wanted to come back, there would always be a spot for me,” Garbin said.
“Now that Warren is the head of the admin staff and Keegan is head of coaching, I’m even happier to come home and play for this club. I am really proud of being a Rocko girl and I’m still salty of 2016 when we got knocked out in the semis and I still get upset about things like that.
“It does mean more and more each year I come back to play, and bringing home a championship would just mean the absolute world.”
This is a remarkably busy period for Garbin but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite her other commitments both in Townsville preparing for the WNBL season and with the national team ahead of the Asia Cup, she has made sure she’s still available to play with the Flames on weekends.
Until the end of the Grand Final on Friday night, her full commitment is to the Flames but then it’s instantly back to the Opals where she hopes to earn a spot on the final team selected to play in India at the Asia Cup.
“It is nice to be so busy because you are wanted in a number of places and that’s the beauty of being a professional athlete. I live contract to contract, but my job sort of takes me all around the country and the world,” she said.
“I’ve been to Phoenix this year and then we go into camp again before the Asia Cup and if I’m selected I’ll go to India for that. I’m back in camp on Saturday morning after playing in the Grand Final on Friday night so it’s a busy time.
“Apart from Asia Cup, we’re already now starting WNBL pre-season so there is lots going on but I’m loving everything at the moment. I was in Germany earlier this year where I probably wasn’t enjoying my basketball as much so coming home has been nice and refreshing.
“I’m really excited whether I make the Opals team or not, just being in the squad and where that opportunity could take me.”
The Asia Cup is going to provide an insight to a potential team that will represent Australia in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympic Games as well and whether Garbin makes either team or not, the fact that she is in the discussion is something she still finds remarkable when she reflects on where she came from.
“It’s crazy to think what might be ahead and I always think back to when I was at the AIS and when they offered me a scholarship I was shocked,” Garbin said.
“I couldn’t believe me that they would want me and now to think I’m in the mix to potentially make an Olympics team, I do pinch myself when I think I grew up in Kambalda which a lot of people have never even heard of.
“It’s a tiny little town with 2000 people and to think from there, I could potentially represent my country on an Olympics stage or a World Cup in a few years, it’s really special. Now that I’m a little bit older, I really do value those moments and weeks like this where we are in a Grand Final and get the opportunity to play for a championship.”
It has been a fascinating season for Rockingham and quite the rollercoaster ride including a change of coach along the way and also with the addition of Alex Ciabattoni in the back end of the season.
But things were clicking entering the finals with Rockingham winning four straight despite still finishing in seventh position before then beating both the Mandurah Magic and Perry Lakes Hawks in two games in the opening two rounds of the playoffs.
Without doubt they are now playing their best basketball of the season and enter the Grand Final against the Senators on an eight-game winning run, and Garbin is excited to be there and with the way the Flames are playing.
“It’s super exciting to be back in the Grand Final. I can’t believe that when I realise the last one was in 2015 and that it’s taken us this long to get back there, but it’s really exciting to be there again,” Garbin said.
“It’s been a bit of a funny season for us I guess. I didn’t get here until nine games into the season and we had a change of coaches, and have had players in and out. Then we finally added Ciabba and coincidentally we’ve been playing our best basketball ever since then.
“Adding her was the final piece of the puzzle for us and it was just about getting everything together. The change in coach changed our offensive structure but it’s clicking now and this is the right time for it to be clicking.”
To wrap up the semi-final series against Perry Lakes at Mike Barnett Sports Complex last Friday night gave Garbin a chance to fully reflect on just how far the whole club at Rockingham has grown even from the championship years of 2014 and 2015.
The fact there was a packed house there to cheer them into the Grand Final on a standalone night of Women’s basketball spoke volumes of why she loves the Flames so much.
“It’s not until probably after the game when I’ve watched some vision back that I realised just how packed the stadium was. I guess when you are playing the game you are so focused on the moment and what’s happening, but it’s unbelievable to see how far the club has come,” she said.
“Even in those years when we did win the championship, we did have a big support but nothing like we do now. And I think that’s massive props to our board and Warren and the girls in our office for all the stuff they do off the court.
“The club’s professionalism has just gone to another level in the past couple of years and that’s been a big drawcard for me to come home and attracting the players like we do.
“We have the WNBL players in our team and I don’t think we’d have them without the work those people do and the sponsors we have along with the game night we provide. It just makes me really proud to be a part of this club and see how far it has come.”
Enjoying their basketball has been a key part of what has helped the Flames click in the second half of the season.
Having a new coach following the brilliant tenure of Ryan Petrik was always going to be a challenging task, and for whatever reason Craig Reynolds just didn’t click with this Flames group.
Ultimately the change to Keegan Crawford who had already been an assistant coach and had a relationship with many of the players proved the right move and Garbin feels enjoying their basketball again has been key to their success of reaching the Grand Final.
“As much as we want to win games and ultimately championships, we want to be able to enjoy ourselves when we are playing basketball as well,” Garbin said.
“It obviously is more fun when you are winning but you also need to create a fun environment for the girls to be part of it. Then with Keegan taking over, a few girls didn’t know him but for the rest of us he had been around the program for five or six years so it was nice to have that familiar face on the coaching staff.
“Keegan knows most of us really well and if he didn’t, he went out of his way to build those relationships. Everyone is enjoying themselves and it’s obviously fun when we’re winning but at the same time you need to create a fun environment to help lead you to winning games.”
Coming into the 2019 season when the Flames announced the signatures of Garbin, Maddie Allen and Christina Boag, having those three genuine bigs had the chance to be their great strength but it was always going to be fascinating how they all fit together.
As it’s turned out, the trio has been instrumental in this eight-game winning streak they are on entering the Grand Final and Garbin couldn’t be happier with how it’s coming together.
“It was interesting when we first signed the three bigs and how that was going to work, but it’s a credit to Keegan for putting in an offence that works for us three bigs,” she said.
“Not only do we have us three bigs, we also have Ciabba playing in that point guard spot who is six-foot. That’s a massive credit to Keegan and the coaching staff for figuring out an offensive system that works for us to have three bigs on the court.
“That’s one of our strengths now going into the Grand Final and matching up against Perry Lakes in that last series, and now going in against this Warwick team who are pretty big as well, it’s just another advantage for us having us three bigs.”
While there’s still plenty of players who have tasted Grand Finals in the Rockingham team, it’s not so much the case at the Senators and Garbin hopes that can be one of the difference makers come Friday night.
“I definitely think the fact that a lot of us having been in Grand Finals before should help us. I’m only 25 but I’ve played in a few SBL and WNBL championships already so anyone who can bring that experience into the team is valuable especially at this time of the year,” Garbin said.
“And we are a pretty young group so even some of the girls still playing who suited up in that 2015 Grand Final, might not have even got to hit the court. But now they have bigger roles in the team or might have gone from not even suiting up to now suiting up, and knowing they have a role to play.
“But now that Tucks, Tarsha, Courtney Hargreaves and Sami have moved on, it’s the time for those local Rockingham girls that have stuck around and done their time who have that little bit of experience who can come on the court and we’ll trust them to do well now.”