Chance of fairy tale now a reality for Slammers and Ty
RARELY do fairy tales comes true in sport but South West Slammers player-coach Ty Harrelson has exactly that chance on Saturday night as the opportunity presents for him to finish his five years in the SBL, and three years in Bunbury by leading them to a first men's championship since 1999.
Following his strong college career at Wayland Baptist University and then playing successfully as a professional through Europe, Harrelson has called Western Australia home for the last five years firstly with the Cockburn Cougars, then the Goldfields Giants and now as player-coach at the Slammers the last three seasons.
After being appointed head coach back at his college Wayland Baptist, Harrelson will now leave the SBL following Saturday night's grand final against the Joondalup City Wolves at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Over his five years in the SBL, Harrelson has thrown himself into the league and community as much as any import perhaps ever, even becoming an Australian citizen, and he's achieved it all as an All-Star, being named in the All-Star Five and making the playoffs each season.
However, the one thing missing is a championship and now that possibility presents itself on Saturday night in what would be a dream ending to his time in the SBL, and playing career.
"In terms of a fairy tale ending, that's exactly what it would be. I wasn’t seeking it, but it's exactly what is happening," Harrelson said.
"Whether or not we win or lose, to see the guys on my team have success now after going through that period at Basketball South West of winning four games in three years, and having never been in the playoffs the 10 years before that, already makes it kind of a fairy tale in my eyes. Now a win on Saturday would just top it off."
While Harrelson is looking forward to finishing his playing career with his first SBL championship, he is proud that he has been able to pick up the Slammers' men program from winning four games in three years to making finals all three of his seasons, and now having made a grand final.
"I've been on some very good teams throughout my whole career playing 12 years overseas and all five years I've been in the SBL I've been on a playoff team," he said.
"In my last chance to get a grand final, on a personal level it's fulfilling to get there but I've had pretty good success having been in the playoffs five times, being an All-Star and so forth. It's been a good journey and I was confident that eventually I would get to the grand final.
"I didn’t plan on this being my last year but it's just the way it happened with the job opportunity back home. When I arrived here I set up a plan for long-term success and I would expect in the next couple of years that Basketball South West will remain a very competitive team in the SBL."
The job for Harrelson taking over as playing-coach at the Slammers coming into the 2013 season was far from an easy one.
The Slammers had not made the playoffs since 2001 and that included winless seasons in 2003 and 2011, and one-win years in 2006 and 2010, so he firstly had to just make the team into a competitive unit again.
Not only has he done that, but they have now at least made a grand final and could win their first championship since 1999, and sixth overall, and the way he will leave the Slammers organisation from where he picked it up from is something he takes great pride in.
"Most people would know the history of our club and the immediate years proceeding my tenure here. I came in with a three-year plan and for it to come to fruition it's very exciting for it to happen. When you have the vision and the guys are able to carry it out on the court, it's just fantastic," Harrelson said.
"We started the season off strong and we always try to prepare to be ready right at the very start of the season, and we started 12-1. We lost a couple of games and had a couple of guys sick and hurt, but I don’t want to make excuses.
"It was really good for us at that time because it challenged us and we were able to get some of the guys with not as much playing experience valuable court time and that's paid off now in the playoffs. I think if you finish in the top four you always have a pretty good chance because you get the home-court advantage in the first round, and that's been good for us."
The other bonus for Harrelson would be sharing the grand final experience with his father who has been there with him all season helping out in a coaching capacity. Initially Harrelson wanted his dad to see him play one last time, but now it's fitting that they will share the end of his playing career.
"It's not something I was seeking, but I had my dad here to help out coaching but I also wanted him to see me play one more time because I was probably getting toward the end of my career even if the job back home didn’t come up," he said.
"I'm still a competitive player, but I was heading towards the end and for him to get to see me play at a pretty high level still is why I brought him out, and of course he's helped us out tremendously."
Harrelson knew little about the SBL or Western Australia before arriving ahead of the 2011 season, but now it will always hold a special place in his heart.
"I'll definitely be back to visit and I've already recruited a couple of guys from Western Australia, and I'll always have my eye on basketball in this area," he said.
"I don’t know what my legacy will be in terms of the SBL, but I've been in the All-Star Five several times, been in the All-Star games every year and the playoffs every year.
"I don’t know what else I can really do except get a grand final win and I have that opportunity on Saturday. I've tried to embrace it and I am an Australian citizen and proud of that, and my five years has been a fantastic journey."
Following Saturday night's grand final, Harrelson's attention turns to his next challenge coaching at Wayland Baptist and he openly admits that is the one and only thing that could have enticed him to leave the Slammers, the SBL and WA.
"To be totally honest, it's probably the only job that I would leave Bunbury for at this stage of my life. I think the opportunity to be the head coach was the key," Harrelson said.
"Some guys work their whole careers as professional coaches in the United States and don't get the opportunity as a head coach at college level, so I had to take the chance. There's also a sense of pride in that it is the university that I graduated from.
"I'm honoured and I'm happy that they selected me to lead their university, and I'll do my best to uphold their values and have as competitive a basketball team every year as possible."
Article by Chris Pike