Return home everything Loughton hoped and more
ALEX Loughton couldn’t have enjoyed his return to Perth for three weeks and four games with the Redbacks any more as he looks forward to what could be his last NBL season at the Cairns Taipans.
Loughton celebrated his 250th NBL game during the 2016/17 season with the Taipans where he continued to play a key role in a team that finished the regular season in second position against the odds before losing in the semi finals to the Perth Wildcats.
The 33-year-old had battled injuries in previous seasons, but settled into a role off the bench this season with the Snakes and provided great leadership and production with his body feeling as good as it has in years.
Loughton shot well and played well overall for Cairns during the season. By the end of the campaign, his body was feeling as good as it has virtually at any time since he joined the Taipans from the Wildcats ahead of the 2009/10 season.
That's why he was more than open to the prospect of a stint in the SBL back in his hometown when Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic made the approach to him.
With Michael Vigor and Lee Roberts yet to arrive at the Redbacks, the timing worked out perfect and Loughton was excited by the chance to play back at home again even if it was only a three-week stint.
It also created quite the sight with Loughton teaming up with Shawn Redhage for the first time since the 2008/09 season when they were Wildcats teammates.
After the duo went to war plenty of times in the NBL in the years since, it was fascinating to see them as teammates but equally daunting for the Rockingham Flames, Goldfields Giants (minus Redhage), South West Slammers and Kalamunda Eastern Suns who they beat in the three weeks.
Loughton certainly carried his weight too averaging 16.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game as he left the Redbacks 4-0 and that improved to 5-0 without him with a win last Friday over the East Perth Eagles.
After his last game last Saturday night, Loughton and his family took off for a family holiday to Japan. He will return to Cairns next week and pick up playing with the Cairns Marlins in the QBL ahead of another NBL season with the Taipans.
Loughton enjoyed everything about the experience back in Perth and with the Redbacks.
"It was a good mental break for myself to just really change it up and it was a really positive experience," Loughton said.
"It was all about keeping active during the off-season and it fit the bill as a fill-in role before Michael Vigor gets in town. But it was also about helping the club implement some culture values and I think a lot of the guys responded and we had a lot of positivity out of it. It was a successful trip."
While Loughton might have enjoyed seeing how the Redbacks reacted in a close-game situation in his stint, he has no doubt they are well placed to make a run at being a contender in 2017.
"The team wasn’t really tested and you do learn a lot more through adversity, and being tested so I think they will go through that at some point after I'm gone," he said.
"There are a few players coming and going in the team so they will get tested, but we've built a good foundation at least to fend off a few blows. It will be good to see how they go from there."
Once the prospect of playing with Redhage once more in the stint with the Redbacks it was something that Loughton was looking forward to despite their run-ins on the floor the past seven seasons.
"It was good fun and Shawn's got a good motor so it reminded of that 07-09 period when he's just in attack mode and we are feeding off each other a bit. It was good to reconnect with him and it was a positive duo I think for the team too," Loughton said.
"He is a competitor and so am I, and if you are on opposite teams you just want to compete. That's just the nature of the beast in the NBL. You find yourself playing against former teammates and mates, and sometimes things get a bit heated.
"That happened with us at times over the years when I've been in Cairns but you both know you are playing your heart out for the club and the chips will fall where they may.
"At the end of the day you can have a cold brew afterwards and laugh over some of the good times. It's been a good journey and it was good to reconnect with Shawn."
Following the trip to Japan during the school holidays, Loughton is looking forward to returning to Cairns and getting ready for another NBL season with the Snakes.
"We are going on a family trip to Japan and I'll head back to Cairns and base myself out of there for the off-season. I've got one year more on my contract and it's about just ticking over to the new contractual year. I just want to have my ducks in-a-row for that," he said.
"It's not necessarily my last year but it's getting to the stage where I will be making that decision at some point. It could be in a year or a couple of years, but you play to see how you feel in any season and it's definitely at the pointy end of the career now. I'm aware of that."
While he has seen experienced teammates Matt Burston, Cam Tragardh and Mark Worthington move into retirement over the past 12 months, Loughton hasn’t considered that just yet.
A lot of the reason for that is both because his body felt good during the 2016/17 season and because he is happy with the role he's playing at the Taipans, and coach Aaron Fearne is happy with what he provides in terms of production and leadership.
"Knock on wood I haven’t had many issues with my body over the past year that are of concern, but at this age it just takes a bit longer to recover from games. So as long as I'm listening to my body then who knows how long we can stretch this thing out," he said.
"As long as I can still contribute the way I want to and there's a lot more I contribute off the floor with the club's culture that has merit too.
"However long the club wants to have me in Cairns will be up to them but it's a positive outlook for me for now. Mentally I feel pretty refreshed after this few weeks at home connecting with a lot of old friends."
Loughton is committed to the 2017/18 season in Cairns and is looking forward to it, but anything beyond that will just have to wait and see.
"It's the third year of a three-year contract but any time after that I guess we'll wait and see. I don’t think we'll renegotiate for another year. We'll just let this season play out and see how it goes," Loughton said.
"But at this stage I'm feeling good and my body has given me a bit of a lease on life. Some of the fans are calling me the Benjamin Button of the team because I seem to be aging less so I'm feeling energised and ready for another year."
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia