THEY were back in playoff action in 2019, they look to have recruited well and understandably coach Wayne Creek is looking forward to seeing what his Goldfields Giants can produce in the 2020 SBL season.
With his heart already firmly with the Giants as one of the club’s finest servants in his playing career, and given the fact he still lived within a stones throw of Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium, it seemed a natural fit for Creek to return to the coaching chair in 2019.
There had been some dark times in recent seasons for the club so close to his heart, so he took on the responsibility and through a combination of strong recruiting, good coaching and building a winning culture once more, the Giants returned to playoff action.
While they did end up losing in the quarter finals to the Lakeside Lightning, there was no shame in that and Creek has good reason to be feeling optimistic now coming into 2020 on the back of that.
As always, there have been significant player turnover with the departure of imports Patrick Burke and Jay Bowie for the arrival of Josh Jones and Corey Hammell.
They’ve also lost experienced point guards Daniel Forlano and Brandon Holloway, who doubled as captain and vice-captain last year along with impressive swingman David Humphries.
But the gains look strong to counter that. Majier Garang arrives with untapped potential from the Perth Redbacks, Kyle Tipene adds some toughness and experience, and Damon Ballantyne provides another effective ball handler.
While losing their leaders in Forlano and Holloway wasn’t ideal, Creek is now more than content with what he’s got to work with coming into 2020.
“It’s definitely never ideal when you lose your captain and vice-captain at the same time, but in saying that, it’s now given the opportunity for a few of the guys that were sort of behind them in previous years to take a step forward,” Creek said.
“Jerome (Reid) has been quite a good leader especially over the last three or four months of training. He has been quite vocal whereas he didn’t need to be vocal previously so you didn’t know if he had that ability.
“But now he’s stepping up and is making his mark, and he has the opportunity to come into his own and it starts from having that voice that he needed to have.
“There are a few other guys that are stepping up too and we are fortunate to have someone like Josh Jones come in who is quite vocal on both ends of the court, and is very positive with how he talks.
“Kyle Tipene has come in and is more mature, and he’s played a fair bit of basketball and he is a very smart player who talks very well to the guys. We’ve got different elements there and obviously it’s not ideal losing those two guys, but we’ve done well recruiting-wise and it gives other guys the opportunity to stand up.”
Given the amount of player turnover, it’s not going to be the same looking Giants team on the court either but Creek sees plenty of positives in the group he has to work with.
“Obviously the team dynamic has changed a little bit but Josh comes in and we saw him play at the Blitz, and he can certainly play,” Creek said.
“He is a natural leader and Corey had a minor back strain during the week so didn’t play a lot of those pre-season games but he is starting to get his feel out there. But what he has shown us at training is exactly what we need.
“We lost Pat Burke, that big grunt guy who did all the hard work inside, and Corey loves all that sort of stuff and he’s as strong as an ox. I think we’ve got the right players in who complement our Aussie players we have around them.”
As the 2019 season rolled on and the Giants built some momentum, there was a definite feeling of the support and interest in Kalgoorlie growing once more too.
Creek looks to make sure the club builds on that further in 2020 and ultimately it comes down to the team playing winning basketball, which he’s confident they can do.
“You go from being on the bottom of the ladder to seventh and making a playoff spot, and you can feel it around town in Kalgoorlie,” Creek said.
“People were talking about basketball again, they were talking about the players and what’s happening. By getting wins on the board, more people started coming to the games so we got better crowds and it becomes a good environment.
“Winning is contagious and can become a habit. We all started feeling a lot more positive and obviously we’ve again had a few players come and go, but we’ve kept some of our core and the guys that have come in have adapted straightaway.”
Having Mayo Malek return for a second season with the Giants was significant after he averaged 14.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.
Creek is now especially excited to see what Malek can do in his second season but to also have a partner in crime joined by Majier Garang, of similar size and length, who is coming off his career-best season at the Perth Redbacks in 2019.
As the Giants’ all-time leader in shot blocks himself, Creek is especially happy to have two strong rim protectors in the line-up.
“They work really well together and we’ve experimented a little bit during the Blitz just seeing how they can work, and in our defences. It makes our guys feel really confident when we have two 6’8 or 6’9 guys who are shot blockers standing behind them,” Creek said.
“That lets them get up and play a little bit more intense defence, and then if they get beat they have their two big buddies standing behind them. We talk about that at training all the time and I want the guys to feel confident in that. They’ve got great ability at both ends too.
“They have great skills basketball-wise and they are different to each other as well, and bring those different elements. But you then bring them together and they work well. It’s just a matter of making all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, but it’s all looking pretty exciting.”
The Giants have played at the Regional Blitz and did well to reach the final against the Cockburn Cougars ahead of the season-opening weekend that sees them play away to the Geraldton Buccaneers on Saturday and the Cockburn Cougars on Sunday.
Creek is happy enough with his team’s preparation and now attempting to build on the positive steps forward they made in 2019.
“You always feel like you can do more in preparing, but after seeing the guys at training with the full squad leading into the Blitz and then getting away to see how everyone is playing as a group, and gelling as a bunch of guys, provided some really positive signs. I’m feeling quietly confident about things,” Creek said.
“You definitely get a lot of takeaways from the season and you look at all the things that did and didn’t work. You get rid of a few things, you modify a few things and you stick with the things that the guys worked well with.
“Coming into a second season I think you feel a little bit more relaxed and comfortable in the structured and everything. You also feel more comfortable that the guys are getting an understanding of what you are trying to do, and you can see that.
“You get that buy in from the guys and you can really see them starting to excel in those areas. You do feel more comfortable for sure.”