ONLY time will tell if his Joondalup Wolves team of 2020 gets the chance to reach their potential and for Charles Nix to continue his growth as a coach as he chases his professional dream, but what he does know is he couldn’t have been happier with how preparations had gone.
With everything now on hold thanks to COVID-19 and the SBL season suspended until at least May 31 with a decision about any potential start up date likely to come before that, there remains a heavy cloud over whether Nix’s Lady Wolfpack team will get their chance to shine this year.
Then there is the doubt over which players might still be able to play from the squad Nix had put together, with imports now increasingly unlikely given the travel bans imposed at present all over the globe.
That does mean it’s unlikely gun recruit Brittany Hodges will suit up, but if the rest of the group from Joondalup can hit the court then Nix will have no shortage of talent to again work with heading into a second season in charge.
Mikayla Pirini, Chelsea Belcher, Isabelle Miotti, Georgia Denehey and Amber Land are all back as proven quality products while Kayla Steindl had also committed to return after her 2019 ended early due to a pregnancy for her and Perth Wildcats star Clint’s first child.
Shani Caldwell is also set to return after having a baby herself while two players Nix coached at the Perth Redbacks back in 2018, Nes’eya Williams and Alix Hayward are on board at the Lady Wolfpack as well.
That means that with or without an import, it’s a strong looking group Nix has to work with as he continues along an impressive coaching journey that’s already included stints at Perry Lakes and the South West Slammers in the Men’s SBL, and now with the Redbacks and Wolves in the Women’s SBL.
He’s also working full-time with the Wolves as Basketball Operations Coordinator so working full-time in basketball, outside of the current challenges thanks to Coronavirus, is allowing him to realise part of his dream but he wants to continue his upward trajectory.
“It’s sort of hard to tell if everything is heading in the direction I’m hoping and I’m pretty open about the fact I’d like the chance to coach at the next level to keep building and growing,” Nix said.
“As a 38-year-old, I still think that’s very achievable. And working in basketball is great, there’s not many people who can wake up who can say they love going to work and I really enjoy going to work.
“If you want to work in this industry, you better love going to work because you work a lot of hours and it’s tiring and exhausting, and you work with a lot of people all with their own opinions. There’s a lot of personalities involved, but I enjoy all of that.
“It was a good decision for me health-wise both mentally and physically, and I’m definitely a happier person which translates to the home life as well. I couldn’t be happier with the situation I’m in now.
“I’m loving the Wolves as a club, I love the supporter base and the board, and the amount of support that I get is probably unparalleled to what I’ve had before. It’s hard work and a lot of hours, and weird hours, but if you love doing what you do you put the time and I’m really happy to do that.”
Whether it was his stints in the men’s competition at Perry Lakes and the Slammers or now in the women’s league the last two years, building strong relationships and bonds with his players has been a strong suit of Nix.
That’s what has him so excited by this group he has at his disposal at the Wolfpack because he already has a past relationship with every single player even without a game being played in 2020.
“I think it definitely helps with my relationships with the players. Even when Brittany was at the Slammers I was down there coaching the men so everyone within this squad I’ve had a previous relationship with having either coached them or them seeing me coach,” Nix said.
“I think that helps to build that chemistry and to shorten conversation. That might sound like a funny statement, but you can get to the point a little bit quicker and help those players learn our system quicker. It definitely helps.”
Nix is now looking forward to what hopefully will still be a second season for him in charge of the Lady Wolfpack in 2020 when or if the season is able to get underway.
His first season at the Wolves started so well as they won 11 of the opening 13 matches. However, they soon lost two thirds of their vaunted front court Kayla Steindl and Amy Kidner, and never could recover.
They lost six of the last 10 matches and then despite being the higher seed, lost two games in the quarter finals against the Perry Lakes Hawks by a combined 80 points.
That wasn’t the way Nix envisioned the season ending and while there were reasons, he didn’t like that playoff performance and he’s used that as a motivating force over summer, and now even still right up until the 2020 ever gets underway.
“I obviously left feeling like there was unfinished business. We started the season so well, we were gelling and I felt as though we were building something pretty special,” he said.
“Luck has a lot to do with basketball and if you’re going to win you need to have some luck, and if you don’t think that’s the case you probably haven’t been around long enough.
“We definitely needed some luck and luck wasn’t on our side, but in saying that I was really disappointed with the way that we bowed out. I felt like even though we were a little undersized and we lost some top end talent, to lose by the margins we did really sat in my belly for the whole off-season.
“It is still d riving whatever we are trying to achieve in 2020. Sometimes unfortunate things need to happen so you can reach where you want to get to, and for us it was getting our asses kicked.”
On the back of that season in 2019, Nix felt with the majority of his group returning and with so many experienced campaigners in the squad that there would be no need to be calling on their commitment as early as November.
Instead, the group all got together in January and now given the delay to the start to the season, if things do end up going, the ability for Nix’s Wolves group to be fresh might be of great benefit.
“We started really late with our preparation for this year. Last year we started in October but for this season we didn’t come back until into January and we designed it that way understanding we might take a little while longer to be the version of ourselves that we want to be,” Nix said.
“But I was happy with where we were for what was meant to be the start of the season, and we were where I expected us to be.
“With all the other Aussies returning, I felt like our pre-season didn’t have to start as early because we were just making some tweaks to a similar system. The chemistry is naturally there for a lot of the girls so I was excited for the start of the season.”
With the knowledge that most of his group would be returning in 2020, Nix saw no reason to want to change too much. But without question, welcoming back former captain and star point guard Shani Caldwell was significant as she brings 230 games of SBL experience with her.
Then two players he knew well from his season in charge at the Redbacks, Williams and Hayward were key pieces to what he wanted to build too.
Williams remains one of the most exciting young prospects in the country who already has played 58 SBL games while Hayward is a seasoned veteran, and a tremendous leader and defender with 228 games of experience.
Those three additions made Nix more than happy with the group he put together coming into the anticipated start of the 2020 season.
“We did a lot of work in the off-season trying to put the pieces together that we felt we needed. Obviously Shani wanted to play last year but unfortunately couldn’t due to medical reasons coming off having her baby,” Nix said.
“But she was on the court the whole pre-season and leading really well in the way that we know she leads, so we are really excited to have her back. Nes’eya is an exciting talent but she’s still 19 years old.
“From our perspective, it’s about trying to help her develop so she can achieve at our level and then obviously translate that into WNBL if those opportunities are still presenting which we hope and think they will be.
“She gives us length, she gives us athleticism and the older she’s getting, the more experience she is developing and the better decision maker she’s becoming. We’re definitely excited about her. The other exciting piece that we’ve added is Alix Hayward.
“She goes under the radar a lot, but I loved her when she was at the Redbacks with me and I’m really looking forward to seeing how she grows with this group and keeps on developing. She’s a veteran and has been in the league a long time, but I still see a lot of potential in her as well.”
The recruitment of Hodges might not end up paying dividends for the Wolves in 2020 thanks to Coronavirus, but she was already settling in well and Nix couldn’t have been happier with what it appeared she was going to bring alongside Land and Steindl up front.
“Brit came in having been in the league before and having played in bigger leagues in Europe, and then in NBL1 last season at Launceston,” he said.
“She’s just a really bubbly personality and has a great work ethic, and she gives us something we didn’t have last year particularly when Kayla went down which is some size inside and some rebounding, and a post threat.
“We feel like we had the pieces that we needed moving forward where if anything was to happen during the season that we’d be deep enough, and probably experienced enough to deal with it. Now this has happened, we’ll find out how that stacks up if the season gets up and going in one shape or another.”
Speaking of quality post players, the loss of Kidner to a knee injury last season hurt the Wolfpack in the end as much as anything.
The 159-game captain was producing 10.6 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. The delayed start to the 2020 season might even end up helping her make a return this year, but Nix isn’t putting any expectations on that to happen.
“We would love Amy to be able to come back but the focus for her is on her long-term health so we won’t be forcing or pushing her, or putting her in any situation where she might risk any further damage,” Nix said.
“We’d love her back and there’s a possibility she could be back, and we’ll support her in any decision she makes. She was still around the group during the pre-season, she was active and leading from the sidelines, and she did everything we could ask of her.
“She worked her butt off in rehab and we were seeing that every day. We’d love her back and she’s an important piece of who we are, but we aren’t counting on her and we won’t be putting that pressure on her.”