THE Warwick Senators, Perry Lakes Hawks, Joondalup Wolves and Lakeside Lightning are all just two wins away from the West Coast Classic championship coming into Friday night’s semi finals before Sunday’s Grand Final.
The West Coast Classic that was started up in the absence of the SBL for 2020 thanks to COVID-19 has to be deemed a tremendous success with the talent blooded and level of competition the teams have played out.
The race for the finals last Saturday night was then a remarkable one. While the Senators and Hawks had already locked away their finals position and a home semi-final, the other two finals bound teams were anything but guaranteed.
In the end, the Wolves qualified thanks to beating the Willetton Tigers by two points while the Lightning advanced only thanks to beating the Perth Redbacks by 15 points.
One basket the other way to the Tigers and Redbacks and they would have been the ones gearing up to take part in the semi finals this Friday night.
But it wasn’t to be and now the semi finals feature the Warwick Senators hosting the Lakeside Lightning at Warwick Stadium with the Perry Lakes Hawks then playing the Joondalup Wolves at Bendat Basketball Centre.
The two winners will advance to Sunday night’s West Coast Classic Grand Final also at Bendat Basketball Centre.
The first semi-final takes place at Bendat Basketball Centre in what is a replay of the semi finals of last year in the SBL and the Grand Final of 2018 when Perry Lakes takes on Joondalup.
Some of the faces might have changed especially in regards to the coaching staff at the Wolfpack, but there is a naturally strong rivalry there between the two teams and they will be throwing everything at advancing to the Grand Final when they meet on Friday night.
Perry Lakes finished the West Coast Classic in second position with an 11-2 record and having won their past four matches. Their two losses came firstly against the Lakeside Lightning and then the more recent one against the Wolves by eight points up at HBF Arena.
Joondalup started the West Coast Classic on fire winning its opening four matches but since then with some key players coming in and out, including the departure of Lee Roberts, the Wolves finished the season winning five of their past nine matches to end up 9-4 and in third position.
Having already played one terrific contest this year and with the memories of the Wolves sweeping the Hawks in two games in last year’s semi finals just 12 months after Perry Lakes beat Joondalup in the 2018 Grand Final, and this game is going be fascinating in so many ways.
It’s impressive what Hawks coach Matt Parsons has done with his team for the West Coast Classic without imports or Perth Wildcats NBL legend Shawn Redhage.
Ben Purser, Rob Cassir and Ryan Smith have led outstandingly while Mitch Clarke, Cooper Hamilton and Bailey Cole have all taken the next step.
Matthew Leary and Austin Kisselev have been handy additions too while youngsters Keegan Phillips and Harry Imison are among those to grab their opportunities.
While much of the West Coast Classic is about developing and preparing for 2021, now that a championship is on the line this weekend Parsons and the Hawks are certainly shooting for it.
“Any time you enter a competition and you can do it better than your opposition then it’s a success, and it means that you’re definitely on the right path in terms of your preparation, planning and game practice which is really important,” Parsons said.
“But for us we are entering the first year of trying to establish a new style of play which we’ve had some real success with.
“The playing group has had a lot of buy in and the accountability they’ve had to lead the changes and make sure they are second nature for the rest of the playing group has been really encouraging.
“That has been the most successful part and planning is great, but at the end of the day you put 12 players against 12 players and the competitive beast kicks in, and you want to win everything you can.”
Whether it gives them any sort of an edge or not will be out of his control, but Parsons is also glad that they will get to play both games at Bendat Basketball Centre this weekend should they win on Friday night.
“I think it’s every coaches’ grand plan at the start of the season to protect their home court and we’re no different. We think we play it quite well and obviously we get to train on it all the time,” Parsons said.
“It’s a bit awkward for the opposition teams with the depth perception there with the walls at the back and the rings so far away, which is a little bit awkward for some of the other teams. But for us we love it and we’re quite comfortable playing at Bendat Basketball Centre.”
The Wolves entered the West Coast Classic virtually as unbackable favourites on the back of signing Lochlan Cummings and Lee Roberts on the eve of the season getting underway to add to their veterans Seb Salinas, Rob Huntington, Reece Maxwell, Ben Ironmonger and Trian Iliadis.
They then were delivering over the opening four games too, but in the end Roberts only played six of the 13 matches, Huntington nine and Ironmonger three taking away their naturally starting centre, power forward and point guard for significant time.
That has led to a mixed run of form now entering the finals but they have qualified and with the memory of losing the past four straight SBL Grand Finals, Iliadis, Salinas, Huntington and Maxwell won’t be short on motivation to win on Friday night.
Whether it’s a West Coast Classic or SBL championship on the line or not this weekend, there’s no doubt the Hawks and Wolves are throwing everything at getting to Sunday night.
Then the other semi-final match up takes place at Warwick Stadium between the Senators and Lightning.
Warwick have perhaps been the squad least impacted by losing players through COVID-19 for the West Coast Classic that they would have had for the SBL, and the result has been a dominant campaign made up of a 12-1 record and 12 straight victories.
Lakeside hasn’t been able to have a settled line-up at any point but now they appear to have a group they were hoping for come finals time having qualified last Saturday night with that 15-point win over the Redbacks.
The two teams did meet just two weeks ago at Lakeside Recreation Centre with the Senators beating the Lightning by 27 points, but both will be expecting a closer affair this Friday with a Grand Final spot on the line.
Since losing on the opening night narrowly to Perry Lakes, the Senators have won their last 12 games entering the finals and they couldn’t be a more impressive and imposing looking line-up.
With the size, athleticism and versatility that they get from Cody Ellis, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, Justin King, Caleb Davis, Jay Thwaites and Ngor Manyang who can all play multiple positions, they are tough to stop.
Then you add in experienced point guard Corban Wroe, 16-year-old excitement machine Ethan Elliott and 343 games of SBL experience with Tom Witts, and there’s not much the Senators are lacking.
They will be sweating on the fitness of centre Ash Litterick, though, who went down hurt a couple of weeks ago early against East Perth especially as they come up the formidable Lakeside bigs.
Speaking of Michael Vigor and Andrew Ferguson, they have only played two games together this whole West Coast Classic, but they were imposing last Saturday night against the Redbacks and could give Lakeside a real edge inside on Friday night.
The Lightning no longer have young guns Corey Shervill and Rowan Mackenzie, but Jay Bowie and Jack Isenbarger have settled back in the line-up along with Ben Lee to give them enormous firepower especially in jacking up the three ball.
Lightning coach Dave Daniels is proud of the depth that they have built throughout this West Coast Classic campaign, but now that it’s finals time they want to throw everything at winning two more games to claim the championship.
“I have 11 guys that average double-digit minutes this year and that’s fantastic for the development. I know a lot of teams have done that too and that’s just good for everybody,” Daniels said.
“Again it’s just another learning opportunity and another playoff game. We have to go on the road and we might very likely have to do that next year so win or lose it’s just a great opportunity to go in, and give it ago.
“One of my favourite Aussie sayings is to give it a go and just go swing the bat or hit for six if we’re talking Aussie sayings. They are a really good team, we’re not joking. That is a final four team in the SBL, they are good and they are well coached, play hard and I have a lot of respect for them.
“I think it will be a little more contested game than last week and we’ll see how it shakes out. We now have an opportunity with two more wins to win this competition and we’re thankful for that. All you can ask for is a chance to win and we’ve got that.”
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – MEN
Perry Lakes Hawks v Joondalup Wolves – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.30pm
Warwick Senators v Lakeside Lightning – Warwick Stadium 8.30pm