Clarke to keep backing his way with young Suns
KALAMUNDA Eastern Suns coach Michael Clarke is continuing to back his playing style entering his second season coaching in the SBL and is looking forward to seeing more improvement from his increasingly youthful group.
Clarke took over as coach at Kalamunda last year and was given the task of rebuilding the program from scratch after the Eastern Suns had won just 12 games combined the previous three seasons following a playoff appearance in 2012.
He had learned and developed his coaching philosophy while spending time at Virginia Commonwealth University, and wanted to see how it would work at senior level back in the SBL.
The Eastern Suns developed their own style of play to stand themselves out from the rest of the league and while there were some hiccups along the way, they won six games and had shown definite signs of improvement.
Clarke put his faith in a whole group of young players who especially impressed and now will look to improve further in 2017. That's in a team even less experienced following the retirements of Jarrad Prior and Travis McIlroy, and the recruitment of James Paringatai not panning out.
But Clarke is happy with the group he has put together coming into the new season with new import Rob Brandenberg joining Courtney Belger along with Brighton Pass, Theron Pinker and Jamieson Lewis along the other arrivals.
He is excited to start the season against the East Perth Eagles on Friday night at Morley, and isn’t letting any negativity surrounding his game style creep through.
"I am excited coming into the season but there is always a degree of nerves because the expectations get higher. There's a lot of people out there that aren’t kind to us and the way we go about things," Clarke said.
"They are waiting no doubt for things to not go well and to tell us they told us so. Overwhelmingly it is a feeling of excitement with the potential of what these guys can do and the fact that they are going to do it our way. I'm really looking forward to it starting."
Clarke is aware of some of the thoughts people have of the style of play he is implementing and some of it he uses to motivate himself and his team.
He doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing because he wants his players to have an edge to them, but once the season starts his focus is solely on getting the best out of his group.
"To be honest, I'm selective and I will take some of the stuff we hear to motivate the group but a lot of the stuff I will just ignore it," he said.
"In fact once the season starts I won't look at that stuff at all, but I find in the build up to the season it can provide strong motivational material and it can help bind the guys together.
"They need to play with a chip on their shoulder, that's just the reality of where we are and some of that stuff helps us do that."
Clarke has been working his group hard over the pre-season both in terms of physically and to make sure they are capable of running his game style to the best of their ability.
He is hoping now a similar playing group the second year going will be better equipped to deliver and understand what he's asking of them.
"It has been a particularly long pre-season for us this year. We started back in early November so it has been a long-time coming for the season to get here and I think all of us are ready to get it started," Clarke said.
"Last year was starting for scratch for us and there was a lot of foundations to be laid. I think we did that and now we have the luxury of some continuity in the playing group and time to actually build on that rather than starting all over again.
"We are looking forward to being able to push on and hopefully keep some momentum from last year with much the same people doing pretty much the same stuff."
When Belger arrived at Kalamunda midway through last season as the second import, he immediately showed that he was cut out to play in the SBL and in Clarke's system.
He put up some terrific numbers and he can score, shoot, pass and basically do a bit of everything and do it well. That's why Clarke is so excited to have him back for a second season even if he might miss the start.
Then to add a point guard in Brandenberg who he knows well as a player and person, Clarke has no doubt he will turn out to be a perfect fit as well.
"It's a long time since this club has had an import come back for a second year and it just allows them to go to a whole other level because he knows the guys and what we do. Courtney is so professional and sets the standard for us and I was over the moon to be able to get him back," he said.
"I worked with Rob when I was at VCU both on the team and in the classroom. He is a poster boy for our style of play so he is going to come in and show the guys the work level required, how to execute the things we're implementing and he is really going to assist me in my difficult job of getting the guys to play in an unconventional way."
Clarke did have a young team with the Eastern Suns last year, but now without Prior and McIlroy, they are decidedly younger again entering 2017.
He isn’t sure how not having any genuine veterans will pan out, but he is glad to welcome Pass back to the club and to bring Lewis in from the Perth Redbacks.
"Funnily enough we are going to be even younger this year. The few older players or veterans that we did have are retired, so I suspect we'd be about the youngest team in the league. We really have no veterans as such so I guess that can both be a good and bad thing, we'll have to wait and see," Clarke said.
"We've brought Brighton Pass back home basically. He was a Suns boy originally who moved to East Perth and ever since I got the job there were people like him that I identified that were out there who I wanted to bring home if possible. I'm glad to have him.
"Jamieson Lewis has also come across from Perth and they are both similar. They are good-sized wing players who can shoot the ball, but they have just lacked confidence in recent times.
"I've seen a huge difference in them already in the relatively short time they've been with us. Now they are able to play basketball and shoot without conscience, and I think we are going to see some good things from both of them."
Photo by Vikki Hile