Coaching Willetton the fit that suits Black perfectly
THIS time 12 months ago Stephen Black was happy with life working at Wesley College and helping his dad with the Willetton Tigers. He is now almost a year into life as a head coach and has no further ambitions but to bring success to the club that has been a huge part of his life.
Black had an outstanding NBL playing tenure winning a championship at both the Perth Wildcats and Brisbane Bullets during a 298-game career in Perth, Brisbane and Cairns.
A back injury led to an earlier than expected retirement before he began to cut his teeth in a coaching sense in Queensland.
Since coming back to WA, Black settled into a role as a teacher at Wesley College and was more than happy putting his focus into that while helping father Alan who had the job as head coach with the Tigers.
Willetton has long been a big part of the Black family so with Alan coaching, Stephen his assistant and Andrew playing that legacy was certainly continuing last year.
Things were thrown a little up in the air when Alan had to step down after taking up a role with the Malaysian Institute of Sport.
Stephen was happy to pick up the job for the rest of the 2016 season and then would just see what happened down the track.
He ended up taking the Tigers all the way to Game 3 in the semi finals against the Joondalup Wolves. That piqued his passion to coach the club that he desperately wants to win a championship with having tried his best to do as a player, and he put his hand up to stay in the role.
Coming into the 2017 season, the Tigers again look genuine contenders in the Men's SBL recruiting former league MVP Ray Turner to add to a starting line-up of Nic Cody, Jay Bowie, Damien Scott and Kyle Armour with support from his brother Andrew, Lachie Evans, Dan Casey and Michael Collins.
Willetton opened the new season beating the Mandurah Magic last Saturday night. Following a long pre-season, Black is glad to have the real stuff underway as he looks to get his players and coaches alike back in the groove they were by the end of 2016.
"It's stressful I will say that. It has been fun over the off-season putting a team together but it's also one of those things where I'm often reminded that it's still pre-season and it's not where we were at the end of last season," Black said.
"We were certainly from a coaching perspective in a groove at the end of last year even though we couldn’t quite get over the top. We were executing the way that I wanted us to so it's interesting from my perspective having had these guys for a full pre-season now.
"Where I want us to be immediately is a work in progress so that has been interesting but we are fortunate that we have guys who work very hard and have a lot of talent. Come Week 1 we will know we have put in the work and we'll be ready to go."
While having the role as head coach at the Tigers is something that Black enjoyed so much last year that he wants to continue it, he doesn’t have higher ambitions to coach in the NBL.
The lifestyle he has right now with working at Wesley and coaching at Willetton is the perfect mix for him.
"I think I've been the son of a coach for far too long to want it to be a career for myself. I've seen the impact that it has on families and I work at Wesley where I am very happy with my working role," he said.
"I'm very happy with the calibre of talent and people that I'm able to work with at Willetton as well so I guess I'm one of the very few unambitious coaches who is very happy with what he's doing, and has no real further ambitions to that."
Black might have no ambition to follow the path of his father who will be regarded as one of the NBL's greatest coaches from his time at the Perth Wildcats, Wollongong Hawks, Sydney Kings and Cairns Taipans, the bond they have has never been stronger.
Alan was back in Perth recently travelling with the Malaysian national women's team that played at the SBL Blitz and also had some extra practice match hit ups with a host of clubs.
Stephen took as much time as he could to catch up with his father and enjoyed it immensely.
"It has been great to catch up with him when he was back over here. I was able to bounce things off him and talk about the things we're doing, and get some advice. He has such a wealth of knowledge and also a wealth of understanding of how I think and operate," he said.
"It's always great to grab him and get some perspective from his point of view because he tends to know exactly what I'm looking for and where I might be pushing too hard, or searching for something. He always finds a way to give me some clarification and that's just why he has been so successful as a coach over his time."
It's difficult for the father and son to not let basketball dominate their conversations as well, and neither would have it any other way.
"I came over to see him when he was here and we watched some NBA and sat by the pool and talked about Willetton, and basketball pretty much takes over everything that we do," Black said.
"That's been our lives together from ever since I was five when I was down at training with the Wildcats, then Wollongong and I have been very blessed to have been from a young age to be part of those conversations.
"My girlfriend is obviously coaching too now so a lot of our conversations are basketball related as well so when you have that kind of passion for something, and the people around you share that, it just becomes something that naturally dominates conversations."
Photo by Mick Cronin