The undoubted benefit of the West Coast Classic that is being played in place of the SBL in 2020 is the chance to give players the type of opportunities to expedite their development they otherwise wouldn’t get, but that doesn’t mean Redbacks coach Craig Allen is resting on his laurels.
Just because developing as a team and players’ individual growth might ultimately be the biggest positive out of the West Coast Classic, playing the way you want to be playing as a group and developing that style and chemistry as a unit to build something for the future is equally important.
That’s why Allen has found it hard to be too satisfied over the opening three weeks of the West Coast Classic with the Redbacks having so far beaten the Mandurah Magic by 33 points, the Cockburn Cougars by 16 and East Perth Eagles by 33 while also losing to the Joondalup Wolves by 36 and Perry Lakes Hawks by 20.
It’s been the inconstancy he is seeing within games that has left Allen far from satisfied heading into this Friday night’s clash with the Willetton Tigers at Belmont Oasis.
While Allen has no doubt there’s still plenty of work to do to ultimately develop as a unit to a point where they are ready to fire in 2021 whether it’s the SBL or NBL1 West they are playing in, but there are still some exciting signs already.
Bri Bailey was recruited from Queensland and has now been thrown in to be the starting point guard while Sarah Allen, Eastern Suns recruit Chanah Crugnale, 17-year-old Brooke Malone, Shenae Hartree, Ella Thornton-Elliott and Brooke Rebel are all playing bigger roles than they would have if this was an SBL season.
Allen has liked what he has seen in certain ways of his players’ development but feels that what they are getting in practice in the big picture is just as valuable at this point as what they get out of the game nights.
“The beauty of this West Coast Classic is that we are being able to create opportunities for girls who are getting more minutes in games than they normally would,” Allen said.
“But as I’ve told them, the reality of it for them at this level is that even at training they get to match up on someone like Maddie or even JJ, Bri and Del.
“There’s any number of the girls who are examples of how much they have improved and one of those is Sarah from matching up against Lauren last year. And that’s a training thing, it’s not a game thing and that’s where our development can come out of as well.
“But the beauty of this competition is that it’s opening up more game time opportunities for the young girls.”
Bailey had already come west to play with the Redbacks for the SBL to add some depth to the guard rotation moving from the QBL where she originally played with the Rockhampton Cyclones but more recently at the Gladstone Port City Power.
She comes to the Perth on the back of a solid 2019 season where she put up 10.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game, and she was going to fit in nicely to a role behind Australian Opals and recently signed Sydney Uni Flames WNBL star Lauren Mansfield.
But now in the West Coast Classic, Bailey has been thrown into the role as starting point guard and No. 1 playmaker for the Redbacks, and has shown good signs putting up 6.2 points, 3.0 assists and 2.8 rebounds while Allen feels she has plenty of improvement left in her.
“I think Bri is developing well and she might admit herself that she hasn’t been 100 per cent happy with how things have gone so far, but there are real positive glimpses,” he said.
“There’s no question she’s a quality player and that she will continue to develop and become better and better. She’s more than an SBL player, she’s a quality player at this level.”
Another player at the Redbacks grabbing her West Coast Classic opportunities with both hands is recently turned 17-year-old Brooke Malone.
She’s now hit 9/24 from three-point land in her five matches while averaging 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game to catch the attention of many onlookers.
She undoubtedly has a bright future but Allen just wants her to focus on getting better.
“There’s a huge upside with Brooke obviously. Clearly she likes to shoot the ball there’s no question about that, but again it’s that education of taking her game forward that we have to work on,” Allen said.
“Yes there is glimpses of her talent and there’s talent right through this group, but the key for us going forward is to try and develop that talent at this level and then hopefully opportunities open up beyond that for them.”
While Allen is seeing some good signs in the development at the Redbacks during this West Coast Classic, he has been frustrated at times as well and none more so than the Round 2 Saturday night loss to the Lady Hawks by 20 points.
The previous night he thought he had seen some steps forward despite a scrappy win over the Cougars, but that loss was disappointing and he hopes ultimately it proves to be a game where they did start to turn the corner in the direction he wants.
“It was particularly disappointing and we had a little home truth chat about it, and while I was hopefully this week we’d come out and change some of those aspects that we let ourselves down in, we did that to some degree,” he said.
“But we certainly didn’t meet the targets we wanted to in the way we are executing. We do have quality players who can score out of creating for themselves, but we want to be able to score out of creating for each other and that’s our biggest task going forward I think.
“I was happier with our defensive intent, that was one of the markers that we want to pride ourselves on and we let ourselves down in the Perry Lakes game with that. So it was nice to come out this week where we won the stops stat that we keep significantly.
“That was a real positive so I’m happy that we’ve made that step moving forward but now we have to work our way around the offensive end as well.”