Young players won't be forgotten as Giants look to rebound
WINNING and returning to the SBL playoffs is obviously the aim for new Goldfields Giants coach Lou Causer coming into 2017, but he isn’t losing sight of the fact of continuing to develop the young players who got their chances in 2016 either.
Causer has been appointed new coach of the Giants having spent the past two seasons as an assistant to Michael Haney, and there's certainly plenty of excitement surrounding his team entering the 2017 SBL season.
The Giants were the Cinderella story of 2015 when they bounced back from a slow start and with three stars in Jacob Holmen, Jay Bowie and Mathiang Muo leading the way, they stormed all the way to the semi finals and were looking to build on that in 2016.
Things just didn’t work out, though, with the Giants winning just the seven games for the season before Haney decided to stand down as coach.
With Jerome Reid among the young players who did greatly benefit from his increased minutes last year, he will again be in the rotation for the Giants in 2017 but they clearly have plenty more top-level talent to work with.
Jacob Holmen is returning for a third season and while a hamstring injury will delay his start, Jerrell Sanders is on board to replace him in the meantime along with another new import big man JB Pillard.
Atem Atem has also made the move to Kalgoorlie as an exciting Australian talent with Brandon Holloway returning and Luke Pike signing from South Australia.
That all gives Causer plenty to work with coming into his first season in charge. He feels like his team is ready to go for the start of the season this weekend on the road to the Perth Redbacks and East Perth Eagles.
"I'm happy with the preparation that we've put in place up to this point and I'm happy with where the team's at," Causer said.
"Obviously we've had a lot of new guys come into the team this season with five or six new faces so that does take a lot of work on and off the court in regards to building the chemistry, and getting them to know each other and comfortable with how each other plays.
"I think we'll be ready for the start of the season and our long-term goal is that the more games we play the more comfortable the boys are going to get playing with each other. So with each game that goes by we'll work out the kinks and continue to improve."
Aside from that stunning second half of the 2015 season, three of the past four years have seen the Giants compile just a 17-61 record so Causer knows it will take some work to get the program set up again for sustained success.
But there is every reason to think that both development and having a strong, winning and competitive team in 2017 will eventuate.
"Everyone knows it's been a rollercoaster ride for us. Back in 2015 we started the season 0-7 and then had a bit of a dream run, and then the expectations came into 2016 and it was quite obvious that we just didn’t have enough of those players to fill in between Jacob and Kenny," he said.
"Unfortunately the talent dropped off a little bit and the other guys were a little bit inexperienced. I'm ecstatic with the support the recruitment team has given me this season and I feel like we've really filled that middle-tier group of players.
"Atem Atem is going to be an X-factor for us and bringing in Luke Pike from South Australia and bringing back Brandon Holloway are big inclusions for us. Those are the guys who are going to contribute on a consistent basis for us.
"I feel very excited and confident for what the season is going to bring for us, but I'm under no illusions that you can't just bring in names and expect to win. The hard work has to come first and the results later."
Holmen's hamstring injury was a blow on the eve of the season for the Giants as he returns for a third year showing his commitment and loyalty to the club.
Causer is looking forward to having him back but won't be rushing him.
"It was a big blow not only because of what he provides on the court, but even off it his voice is great and he absolutely loves training and treats every session like it's a game," he said.
"He is the loudest guy out there so he is definitely going to be missed but we need to make sure he looks after his hamstring and he is 110 per cent ready and right before he comes back."
The Giants have been fortunate to have signed a replacement import the calibre of Sanders while Holmen is out. Already what he showed at the SBL Blitz was exciting as he looks to set the league alight before heading to Adelaide.
"We're very lucky that Jerrell really fell into our lap. He contacted me the week it happened and said he was keen to be given the opportunity," Causer said.
"We had a number of discussions on the phone and it was just about getting in an import to fill that gap, I wanted to make sure I had the right guy with the right attitude and mindset. He definitely fits that bill.
"He came down for the Blitz and was a bit shaky after only seeing the plays on paper and didn’t really know his teammates, but by the end of the weekend he was fitting in perfectly and even put on a nice dunk for everyone online.
"He has fitted in well with the group and he is a great guy, a great character and unfortunately we'll have to let him go once Jacob comes back. But he has been recruited by an Adelaide team so once he is finished with us he will be moving on there which I'm happy for and so is he. But for the meantime, while he's here he is fully committed to helping us get wins and that's fantastic."
While Holmen and Kenny Manigault put up good numbers as imports last year for the Giants and Edin Zunic did his best as a big man, they will have a different look inside this season with the arrival of Pillard.
Causer is looking for him to provide an inside presence for the Giants to then let Holmen go inside and out, and the likes of Atem Atem, Holloway, Daniel Forlano, Pike, Daniel Goodluck and Russell Hurst to do their thing.
"I have got along with JB really well straight off the bat. When we first got in contact with each other through email, he got in touch with me and wanted to have some discussions on the phone so while he was in America we had a few chats," he said.
"The guy is an ultimate team player, he hustles hard and I expect him to give us an inside game. He has some great post moves and he is also going to be a great leader. I'm very excited to see what he's going to bring to the table for us."
Atem Atem is another exciting addition for the Giants potentially giving them a local player capable of producing similar type of numbers at times to what Muo provided in their semi-final run of 2015.
"You can definitely see that the talent is there but you don’t want to have those expectations on a young player to put up import type numbers as an Australian. I just want him to play his game and feel comfortable within the principles of what we're trying to do as a team," he said.
"Communication has always been my key with the guys and I've had a number of conversations with Atem and he knows what he is capable of in our system and what he can provide this team.
"I personally do feel like he is going to fill that void that Mathiang left us last year so I'm excited to see what he can do and him representing his country in the FIBA Championships is only going to make him come back bigger and better."
Entering his first season as coach, Causer's focus is on winning obviously and returning the Giants to the playoffs but he sees his job to develop young talent and set the club up for sustained success as being just as important.
"I'm not getting away from the fact that we want to have a successful season after a disappointing 2016, and obviously my goal as a coach and our goal as a team is to get back into the playoffs, but I'm under no illusions that the young guys are the future of this club," Causer said.
"If we go away from that then we're not going to have much success over the next five or 10 years. I'm going to continue to bring these young guys through like Jerome and he is one guy who stepped up last year. The opportunities are still going to be there but these young guys have to show me that they want to take it.
"I'm not going to just hand out minutes willy nilly, everyone has to work to earn their minutes and that will only make them stronger once they become permanent fixtures in our team. The inclusion of the D-League will help our young guys as well and before they could only train and not get many minutes, but now they have something to commit to which will only help our club in the future."
Photo by Vikki Hile