Voelkel right at home with Slammers despite delayed start
HIS return was delayed three weeks but Brian Voelkel is back with the South West Slammers, had had a near triple-double in his first game of 2017 and he couldn’t be happier or more motivated after a year away.
Voelkel became an instant hit with teammates and fans alike in his first stint with the Slammers back in 2015 following his decorated college career at the University of Vermont.
The New York-native made an immediate impact in Bunbury going on to average 14.5 points, 16.6 rebounds and 7.7 assists a game on the back of shooting 52.5 per cent from the field, but it was more than just the numbers.
Voelkel's competitive drive and warrior instincts became a huge factor in the Slammers going all the way to the SBL grand final in 2015. While that didn’t quite result in the championship, it was a hugely successful season for the club with where they had come from.
Things away from the Slammers didn’t quite work out for Voelkel last season with him having an eight-game stint in the British Basketball League with the London Lions, but when the chance to return he was more than happy to do it.
Voelkel enjoyed his time so much on and off the floor with the Slammers back in 2015 that there was nowhere he would rather be as he arrived almost a month out from the start of the season.
That's where the frustrations crept in as he was forced to sit out the opening three rounds awaiting his clearance. That finally came in time for him to take on the Stirling Senators at Warwick Stadium on Sunday.
The 25-year-old picked up right where he left off, too, almost recording a triple-double with 11 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. But he and his teammates were left frustrated with being unrewarded again for a competitive showing.
They lost to the Senators by eight points to remain winless in 2017 after four games heading into Thursday night's clash with the Rockingham Flames at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
Voelkel couldn’t be happier to be back with the Slammers and when it was time to decide where his future lied, living and playing in Bunbury again was the obvious choice for him.
"It's awesome to be back here. There are a lot of new guys in our team obviously but it's the same type of community feel and that's kind of what drew me back," Voelkel said.
"I loved it when I was last here. Just living here, I love Bunbury and it's an awesome place and an awesome community to be part of. Basketball-wise it was awesome too.
"I liked the league and I liked that every night was competitive and you had to bring it. I liked my teammates then and I like these guys now, it's a fun group to play with and they are an unselfish group. It was an easy decision to come back."
A lot has changed with the Slammers since that run in 2015 that Voelkel was part of all the way to the grand final. That was the final season of the three-year plan with Ty Harrelson as player-coach to create the club into a force in the SBL again.
That worked but things changed dramatically in 2016 and didn’t quite go to plan so there is little recognisable upon return for Voelkel in 2017. But he's more than happy to have Clive Weeden and Tre Nichols as teammates again.
"Clive and Tre are still two of the people I'm closest with so it's great to play with them again," he said.
"A lot of the other guys have retired or moved on but knowing that we have that bit of a core there so we could develop some of the younger guys meant it was going to be a fun year and a successful one, which is why I came back."
It was a vastly more experienced team that Voelkel was part of two years ago as well with Harrelson running the show but also with Wade Hitchcock, Trent Worthington, Aaron Edwards and Patrick Phillips providing the leadership too.
Now as Voelkel returns, he is looked at as a leader alongside Weeden, Nichols, Michael Lay and Teny Puot. That's something he is more than comfortable with.
"Last time I was here we had Wade, Trent, Paddy, Aaron and Ty obviously so all those guys had been in the league and around basketball a long time so they gave us great leadership," Voelkel said.
"Now when I come back we have a lot of young guys here, but that's fun for me as someone who has been around a while.
"I get to help develop some of the younger guys along with Tre, Clive and Teny. It's a much different team obviously and a different experience for me but I'm looking forward now to the rest of the season."
Voelkel's competitiveness and desire to never give up on any possession or loose ball made him a real favourite at the Slammers in 2015, but he admits to simply not knowing any other way.
And he sees that same competitive drive in coach Charles Nix which is a big reason why he agreed to return to the Slammers in 2017 to play under a coach like him.
"That's what I do. I rebound and just play as hard as I can. Hopefully I'll get a few less technicals this year but I'll bring that same competitiveness that I had last time. That's who I am as a player so it's not going to change," he said.
"He's awesome and we talk about having that competitiveness, I think I mesh really well with Nixy. I just see how much he wants to win and at the end of the day that's what I want to do and that's what all these guys want to do. He is defensive-minded and is just a competitive guy. I'm ecstatic that he's our coach."
It wasn’t solely basketball reasons that drew Voelkel back to the SBL and the Slammers either.
He loved everything about the community and lifestyle of living in Bunbury that he wanted to experience it again.
The desire to go one step better than they did in 2015 for the local community will always drive him on.
"Another reason I came back was after seeing us go all the way to the grand final and seeing what it meant to the community was really special," Voelkel said.
"You don’t get that everywhere so coming back here I know last year was a little disappointing for them, so hopefully we can get another chance at it and do it for the club and the community.
"I'm originally from New York so when I left to come here there was a foot of snow. So since then I've been hanging out at the beach and enjoying the weather.
"You can't beat this lifestyle. It's a beautiful place and there are the best people here. It's just an extraordinary place to be and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else really."
Photo by Vikki Hile