Fully fit Weeden with no complaints over life at Slammers
THE start to the season hasn’t gone to plan for the South West Slammers, but big man Clive Weeden is feeling good a year on from his return after a knee reconstruction with bringing success to Bunbury remaining his driving force.
Weeden is in his fifth season with the Slammers, feels right at home living in Bunbury and has his Australian citizenship, so there's little about the life he has set up for himself since arriving in 2013 that he would change.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some bumps in the road. Weeden was a big factor in the Slammers pulling themselves out of the doldrums to return to the playoffs in the SBL in 2013 and then end up in a grand final appearance in 2015.
Having helped the club rebuild to be a force in the SBL again was something he was tremendously proud of, but he missed out on that playoff run after rupturing his ACL and requiring a knee reconstruction.
He did make it back in 2016 but it was a tough season for the Slammers and he was just trying to again find his feet following the knee injury.
However, the 29-year-old had a big pre-season to lead into the 2017 season and has made a solid start to the new campaign even if the Slammers haven’t yet won following losses to Lakeside Lightning, Stirling Senators and East Perth Eagles.
Weeden is feeling good physically and also likes the chances of the Slammers having success this year with Tre Nichols remaining, Brian Voelkel returning and Michael Lay on board.
And if he was able to part of any form of success with the Slammers, it would mean the world to him.
"Having success here would mean the absolute world to me. It sounds cliché, but it really would. Because I was injured a couple of years ago, I still don’t think I've played in a finals game that we've won at this club," Weeden said.
"Although I was part of that team that made the grand final, I was not actually on the floor. For me it would mean so much for my confidence after the journey it has been for me as a player if I was able to achieve that success at this club. That's the ultimate goal."
Even though the Slammers have lost some experience and leadership coming into 2017 with the departures of Trent Worthington and Wade Hitchcock, Weeden likes the group they have put together.
Not having Voelkel over the first three rounds has made life difficult. But with Weeden, Lay, Nichols and Voelkel along with some promising young players, Weeden remains confident that things will come together well for the Slammers under new coach Charles Nix.
"The new people we have brought into the club this year and having Brian Voelkel has given us an amazing cohesion as a group as friends and teammates. I think that will pay dividends for us on the court as the year goes on," he said.
"I think with such a young core, it's not just on myself to be a leader but also on Tre, Brian and Michael Lay to provide that leadership. It's very interesting that I'm the local veteran now.
"I'm not from Bunbury and I've only been here four years, but I think we have to put in everything we can not for ourselves, but for the whole community.
"We have to show that we aren’t just a team of imports coming in, that once we are here we are part of the community and I think they can see that with Tre and I especially.
"He is one of the hardest working guys I've ever seen and I love playing with him, and his passion and leadership shines through."
Living in Bunbury and bringing success to the city would mean a lot to Weeden, but so would achieving it with his teammates like Nichols and Voelkel who were there also for their grand final run in 2015.
"This group is special is because we have all built something together. I've played on teams overseas that have won championships where it was a miserable four months even though we won nearly every game just because we were all individuals," Weeden said.
"But even in my first year here when we weren’t winning too much, it was the most fun I've ever had playing basketball and that's because of the guys around you and the community you play in."
Weeden did return solidly last year from his knee reconstruction, but he felt it was more about just getting his legs underneath him again.
Now coming into 2017, he feels fully healthy and back ready to have a significant impact as a versatile big man in the SBL again.
"I spent half the season last year recovering from an ACL and just to have this whole off-season to work on getting better, and not on getting back, was huge for my confidence and for my game," he said.
"I feel 100 per cent ready to have a big impact this season. I think I was getting back to it in about the last four games of last season but for the most of it I was kind of a shell of what I wanted to be.
"Having had the whole off-season to work on the strength of not only my legs, but my whole body was huge and my confidence is still there from what it was before. I also think we have a great bunch of guys who can accentuate my game this year too more than what we might have had last year."
Looking back two years when South West made its run all the way to the grand final as the culmination of a three-year journey from when Ty Harrelson and Weeden were among the arrivals, it still stings Weeden that he wasn’t able to hit the court during the playoffs.
While it was special to see his team in the grand final, it just wasn’t quite the same than if he was out there himself.
"When I was in the moment a couple of years ago it wasn’t really anything, I tried to be the best team guy I could and I did that by trying to be the loudest guy on the bench. The refs probably didn’t like me being as vocal as I was," Weeden said.
"I just wanted to do anything I possibly could to help us have success. But once the dust was settled, it kind of hit me how much of a toll it took on me especially walking into that grand final knowing it was the culmination of a three-year plan for us to get there.
"To see it realised by making the grand final even if we didn’t win, was something we had worked three years to achieve. It was hard to not be out there but I loved every guy on that team and I was so happy to see them step up and fill the void that I left when I was injured. That was special."
Weeden wouldn’t change anything about his ride that now sees him happy with life and basketball in Bunbury after arriving in 2013.
After growing up in Boston and attending Dartmouth College, he began his professional career in Macedonia and Tunisia before coming to Australia.
He didn’t know what to expect at first, but now he sees himself staying for the long haul.
"To be here through it all has been fascinating to say the least and it has been the ride of a lifetime really. This whole community is great," he said.
"We are blessed to play in one of the regional areas because the community really does get behind you and that's why I stayed originally. It has just built life-long friendships and the pride that everybody has in the Slammers as an organisation now is phenomenal."
The life in Bunbury and playing with the Slammers is something that Weeden couldn’t ask to be any better. He feels blessed to have been given the opportunity to make it something that has now lasted five years and could continue for several more.
"The work-life balance is phenomenal. I come from Boston and that was all about working long hours at a high-pace without much else. Coming here if it takes 10 minutes to go to work, it's twice as long as it should and it's two minutes to the beach with amazing weather," Weeden said.
"It really couldn’t be more perfect and with the community, I had a lot of personal things to deal with in my first year but they didn’t question a single thing when I had to go home. I knew from then on that this was the place I wanted to be at."
Photo by Ashley Pearce