Lackovic excited about Redbacks' youth and leadership
PERTH Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic is as excited and motivated for the 2017 SBL season as he can remember not because of the potential signings to come, but because of his young brigade well led by some quality experience.
The Redbacks are still a work in progress as a group for 2017 with the SBL season set to start this Friday night on the road to the Rockingham Flames, but Lackovic couldn’t be happier with what he has and what might still be to come.
The Redbacks might be in a position to announce some further signings in the coming days or weeks, but for now Lackovic already likes what he will have for Round 1 even if big man Michael Vigor won't have arrived yet.
Neither will at least one import that he will welcome in, but Perth Wildcats legend Shawn Redhage will be there on Friday night against the Flames and so will Redbacks captain Joel Wagner along with sharpshooting veteran Ben Smith.
There are players missing from last year including imports Jourdan DeMuynck and Reed McConnell along with big man Lewis Thomas. In DeMuynck's case there was a prospect of him returning before he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
With Redhage's experience and leadership, Wagner still running the ship, Smith adding plenty and then Vigor to return, the Redbacks still have plenty of good pieces even without any additional signings.
It's the young brigade that Lackovic is most looking forward to seeing how they perform especially early led by Kyle Bowen along with Isaac Gattorna, Jayden Stone, Riley Chappell and the returning Marshall Nelson and Kalamunda recruit Geordie Murray.
Overall, the Redbacks coach is as excited for a season as he can ever remember being.
"I get really excited about the start of the season. I get really excited every day I drive to practice where I get to watch the change in the difference in young men through the course of the season and pre-season," Lackovic said.
"Then I get excited about the combative nature of competing against good teams and other good coaches. It's one of those things that feeds my soul to have that development and competitive component.
"I'm someone who needs competition, it excites me every day to get up to be a better person, man and father. That balance is what I look for as a coach. We are looking to see where our young guys are at and I can't wait for the other guys to fill in as the season comes on, and to really measure ourselves against the other elite teams in the competition."
While Lackovic won't have his full squad available for Round 1, he does feel like himself and his group is ready to go.
"I feel ready in terms of the preparation we've put in place and that started from last year into this year. I feel really confident about the systems that we've put in place at both ends of the floor that have given us a proven result over the course of the journey from last year to this year," he said.
"I'm very confident and comfortable with the culture we've developed and built, and with our development. They are the three things – system, culture and development, that allow us to have confidence that we are prepared for what's coming up."
While the Redbacks will be a young group to start the season aside from Redhage, Wagner and Smith, that's not a concern at all to Lackovic. He's actually excited to see how the young players develop under such strong leadership.
"We are going to be young in terms of age and in terms of some of these guys haven't played a lot of SBL games, but I feel very confident in throwing them out there as I did in the pre-season because I think they are ready to play," Lackovic said.
"When they are on the floor nobody asks how old they are or how many games they've played, it's all about if they can play their role right now the way we need them to. They have demonstrated that they can already.
"The reason why Shawn is here with us is to continue to help the development of guys like Kyle Bowen and Jayden Stone. They are guys who are starting to forge their careers at state and national level. We feel really good about the group.
"Their energy is great and they compete hard at practice. Having those experienced guys like Ben Smith, Joel Wagner and Shawn Redhage the blend is what I look forward to seeing happen out there on the court."
The signing of four-time Perth Wildcats MVP and four-time NBL championship winner Redhage is a massive coup for the Redbacks.
The 36-year-old played 393 games in the NBL but admitted himself that he is feeling as fresh, healthy and motivated after retiring than he can ever remember at the end of any season.
Lackovic is obviously looking forward to seeing the production he provides the Redbacks, but it's about much more than just that.
"We are really excited about bringing in Shawn as a club. I have so much respect for him as a person firstly. He is a family man and then the attributes that he has displayed over the course of his entire career, when I look at that it's what I want my players to be like," he said.
"That's the reason he is here and he knows that as well. We might have been able to find a younger and more athletic player to join us, but that's not what our club is about. It's about having great mentors and leaders, and providing opportunities for these young guys to learn from.
"We are fairly confident we know what we get from Shawn on the court and how he can deliver in the system that we have, but it's the stuff that he does with the team that you can't put a price on. it's the stuff that he's done over his career that excites me about Shawn transitioning into teaching these young guys how to walk, talk, act and prepare."
Helping in the Redbacks securing the signing of Redhage was the time he spent with both Wagner and Vigor when they were development players at the Wildcats, so the chemistry is already somewhat there before they even start playing together in the SBL.
"He knows what he gets with us as well straightaway. I have communicated with him over the last couple of years and we've looked at this previously, but the timing just wasn’t right. And with Joel and Michael, he knows them both and has seen their careers grow through the state league," he said.
"He had an opportunity to spend time with them in the national league when they were development players for the Wildcats. He has a lot of respect for them and he understands this is a team they have grown up in. He is excited to work with these guys who are young leaders at our club and that's why this is a special year for us. "
Before injury cut him down late last season and seriously hurt the Redbacks' ability to challenge the Joondalup Wolves further in their quarter-final series, Vigor just about was the best performing big man in the SBL.
He is still in the midst of his British Basketball League season with the Bristol Flyers.
They are currently fighting for a playoff spot and how they end up will depend how much of the SBL season Vigor misses, but either way Lackovic has no doubt he will return a better player and leader.
"He has had a year now of exposure as a professional athlete playing all-year round in a good league, with a good coach and good players around him. I speak to Mike regularly and we touch base weekly, and Mike's an incredible guy," Lackovic said.
"He has matured and developed as a player, and his tools on the court we've seen what he's capable of doing and I created a system around him, Joel and last year a player like Jourdan DeMuynck.
"Mike is a playmaker out there and is a good decision-maker, and we know what his talent level is like. We also know that he is a great young man who has matured into being a real positive leader for our club."
Photo by Vikki Hile