Wagner reaches 350 SBL Games

AS he becomes just the second Perth Redbacks player ever to reach 350 games in the Men's SBL,
Joel Wagner continues to ply his trade and lead his team because quite simply, the club means the
world to him.

Outside of his stints in the NBL with the Perth Wildcats as a championship-winning development
player at the Perth Wildcats in 2009/10 and then joining the Sydney Kings the next season, it is the
Redbacks that have been home to Wagner even before he made his SBL debut in 2004.

That came when he was just 15 and after hitting the court just three times in those first two years,
he has remained a permanent fixture of the Redbacks team ever since.

Along the way he was captain of the 2017 championship winning team, he won the league's Most
Improved Player award in 2007, has twice been named the All-Star Starting Five point guard and is
now on target to become the SBL's all-time assists leader this season.

That's quite the journey for an unobtrusive South Perth local to consider he is about to play his
350th SBL game on Friday night when the Redbacks host the Lakeside Lightning at Belmont Oasis.

On top of his playing career, Wagner is now a married man to wife Katie and the couple have two
young children together.

Katie continues to work full-time and Wagner is completing his primary school teaching studies so
mix that in with looking after the two infants and the basketball commitments and life is pretty full
on.

But Wagner couldn’t think of life without playing with the Redbacks and he couldn’t be prouder to
now reach the 350-game milestone.

"I guess 350 games is a lot to play and I feel pretty lucky to have been chosen to play in the senior
side 350 times," Wagner said.

"It's not something that you think about too much throughout the journey, but some people grow
up wanting to play SBL basketball and at a high level but don’t get the opportunity to do it.

"So I'm pretty grateful that I've been able to play that many games and to do it at one club is pretty awesome, especially given that when I first played in 2004 I had guys like Matty Earp and Jamie

Baker in front of me.

"They were the guys I really looked up to and they did similar things. It's crazy to think I've played
350 games now and I still feel pretty good believe it or not."

Wagner grew up wanting to play for the Redbacks and if ever got the chance to go as far as the NBL
that would be a bonus.

But pulling on the Redbacks singlet was what he aimed for from even before he reached double-
figures in age and now the fact that he has had such a decorated career at the one club is something
he is so proud to be able to hang his hat on.

"I'm extremely proud to be a one club player. I remember looking up to guys like Jamie Baker and
Matty Earp as a young guy, and even some of the imports I remember coming down to watch us play
in WABL games," he said.

"I remember those days and I've played all my domestic basketball with the club as well, and one
thing we've done well is that we have embraced our history."

"I've always loved that part of it and at every WABL breakfast the life members are there to talk
about the 55-year history of the club and that's really important to pay respects to that history
which made the club what it is today. I'm really proud to still represent the Redbacks."

Friday night is going to be an occasion to remember as Wagner joins former teammate Matt Earp as
Redbacks players to reach 350 games as he chases down his SBL club record of 364 appearances.
Wagner also always imagined that given he played more than 200 games with him as a teammate
that Michael Vigor would be there for his 350th match too.

That will be the case even though Vigor will be playing for Lakeside as will one of Wagner's greatest
point guard rivals over the journey, Kyle Armour.

"To be honest I was thinking about it and I'm really glad that Kyle and Mike will be there even
though I'll be playing against them. They are both close mates of mine and I've competed with Kyle
countless times now, and I always enjoy going to battle with him. It should be a great night," Wagner
said.

"It's going to be really strange playing against him (Vigor), no doubt about it. Mike and I would
always go at it at training if we were on opposition teams so I wouldn’t expect anything different
now on Friday night with no love lost."

"But we'll always be mates, Mike is one of my best mates and for whatever reason he decided to go
over to Lakeside and I'll back that 100 per cent. I'm just happy to see him out on the court and
enjoying his basketball."

Having started his junior career aged nine and then representing the Redbacks from the under-12s in
WABL, Wagner has always bled red for the club. He did get his opportunity to debut earlier than
expected aged just 15, but it's something he'll never forget.

"I still remember my debut pretty well actually. It was against Willetton and I didn’t know if I was
actually going to be playing or not until halfway through the warmup because we had someone
coming back on a plane and I was the back up, back up, back up point guard," he said.

"I ended up playing and got chucked into the game and I remember on my first play I found Jamie
Baker for a backdoor cut for my first assist, and I was so pumped with that and to get out there to
have an impact straightaway.

"Then I quickly came back to reality when one of their shooting guards starting to kick my butt at the
other end of the floor. But it was crazy to be that young and out there with grown men and guys that
had played in the NBL and been greats of the SBL."

That would be Wagner's only assist for the first two years he spent in the SBL, but he has now dished out at least 113 every season since including a best of 297 in 2010 when he averaged 10.2 a game including a career-high of 24.

Over the course of his 349-game career, he has now delivered 2723 assists at 7.8 per game. That
tally has him within 50 now of the mark set by Troy Clarke as the all-time league leader during his
512-game SBL career.

That already has Wagner ranked second all-time in league history in front of Shamus Ballantyne (2414), Joe-Alan Tupaea (2118) and CJ Jackson (1836).

All things going well, within the next month or so Wagner should become the league's all-time
assists leader, but he's just grateful for the players he's had to pass to over the journey.

"I feel very lucky for the players I've had the chance to pass the ball to over my career, he said.

"Back when I was very quick as a young fella I had a guy like Ryan Neill to pass too and I would still
say he is the best shooter that I've seen in this competition, and the best guy at creating space for
his own shot. Then there was Jarrad Prior as well who I played side by side with for a long time.

"I feel very lucky to have had guys like that receiving and sharing the basketball with. Throughout the
years I've played with great imports too and people who were great receivers as well, there's too
many to name. I just feel really lucky with the good teams I've played on over the years."

The undoubted highlight of Wagner's career is captaining the Redbacks to the 2017 championship
and while it lived up to everything he dreamed it would, it's a bit of a blur to him now when he
reflects.

"Obviously it meant the world to me in terms of basketball. What everyone wants to do is be the
winners at the end of the season and we'd been close a few times with teams that we thought were
real contenders, but it didn’t happen," Wagner said.

"To have that pain in those years and then be top of the podium at the end of the season in 2017
was unbelievable. That was for the club and supporters as well. We're not a club that has tons of
money or our own stadium and those sort of things, so for us to be at the top at the end of the
season was unbelievable.

"It certainly did live up to what you would hope but if I'm honest, looking back on it that all seems
like a bit of a blur especially that Grand Final night. It seems a bit surreal still to think back at it and
you look back on photos and you see things you can't remember happening. I was so focused on the
game that I feel like it actually took me a while to come down from it and start thinking straight
again."

Wagner is also an NBL championship winner when he was a development player back in 2010. That's
something he was proud to be part of as well and he'll always treasure the opportunity provided to
him by coach Rob Beveridge and then at the Sydney Kings the following season.

His NBL career might have not lasted as long as he hoped, but he still will always get to say he played
in the league and showed that he could certainly play at the level particularly in that stint at the
Kings.

"You still feel a part of it but the reality is I was a development player and I played a couple of
minutes that whole season," he said.

"As much as you are pushing guys at training and all that sort of stuff, it is a lot different than being
the captain of a team in the SBL that wins a championship. It's far different really, I don’t know how
to explain it. At the end of the day, you still have the title as an NBL champion and there is a ring
sitting at home in my trophy cabinet which is awesome.

I'm proud that I got to represent WA and the Wildcats as a development player to start with. I was
the right place at the right time with Rob Beveridge and to get the call up right at the start of the
season the following year to go to Sydney was a dream come true.

"I was on a plane within 24 hours of getting the phone call and I played my first game that next
week, and did really well and they signed me for the rest of the season. It was a bit of a whirlwind
and it didn’t last as long as I was hoping, but I'm still very proud that I got to play at the highest level
in this country."

Wagner's body is still sound and his mind is still willing, but finding the time required to still play
basketball at the standard he has set for 15 years is a challenge with family, work and study all
thrown in.

That's why he doesn’t know how long he'll keep playing for but he isn’t feeling any urgent pull to
retire at the moment.

"I honestly couldn’t tell you how it's going to pan out in the future. It's definitely a season by season
thing at the moment," he said.

"The body still feels really good and I still love playing basketball, and playing basketball for the Perth
Redbacks. I'll just keep making each decision at the end of each year and the start of pre-season."

Wagner would be lying if he said home life is easy with the challenges of making everything work
with completing his teaching degree, his wife's work, the children basketball and anything else life
throws at them.

But he couldn’t be prouder to have Katie and their children to go through it all with and he's looking
forward to getting stuck into being a full-time primary school teacher to start building his career too.

"It has its challenges I'm not going to lie but you make it work. My family and I make it work the best
we can and I guess it just means I don’t get the chance to go and shootaround as much as I used to,"
Wagner said.

"I'm spending a lot of time at home looking after the kids while still studying at uni as well. It'a not
about balance because there's no such thing in our situation, but we just make it work as we go. I'm
extremely proud to be a father now.

"It's still surreal that people think I'm mature enough to be a father sometimes because I still feel
pretty young at heart, but when you get home especially after a tough game you quickly come back
to earth that basketball is just a game and your biggest job is to raise your kids and be there for your
partner.

"And in terms of teaching, I've always enjoyed working with kids whether it's coaching or running
clinics or anything like that. Teaching is a profession I've chosen to go down the line of and I'm really
looking forward to finishing my studies and getting into it fully."

Article by Chris Pike




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Acknowledgement

Perth Redbacks Basketball Association acknowledges the traditional owners of the land on which the Association is located, the Wadjuk people of the Noongar Boodja, we pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We respectfully acknowledge the continuing connection of the Noongar people to the lands and sea on Noongar Boodja.