There might be no SBL season in 2020 but there is great excitement around the replacement West Coast Classic and both Perth Redbacks teams look to get off to a winning start away to the Joondalup Wolves this Friday night.
COVID-19 forced the postponement and ultimate cancellation of the SBL season for 2020, but with Western Australia doing a strong job of keeping the pandemic in check, the West Coast Classic has now been created in its place.
Round 1 of the competition gets underway on Friday July 24 and it will be a nine-week season now with each team playing one another once before the championship is decided in the weekend of September 24-26.
The Redbacks have been handed a challenging opening to the season as well with two road games starting against the Joondalup Wolves at HBF Arena on Friday night. The women’s game tips off at 6.30pm and the men’s at 8.30pm.
Then on Saturday night, the Redbacks head south to play the Magic in Mandurah with the women’s contest starting at 5pm and the men’s at 7pm.
Given the nature of the new competition, it’s going to be a wait and see approach in a lot of ways to see how the teams are shaping up and who will end up playing for them, but there’s certainly every reason to be expecting big things from both Redbacks teams.
Ahead of the SBL season, the Redbacks women had recruited well adding Perth Lynx big Maddie Allen to another WNBL player Lauren Mansfield along with the signings of Raya Thompson, Briana Bailey, Brooke Rebel, McKaylah Pomare and Shenae Hartree.
There had been some losses too most notably Nes’eya Williams-Parker and Alix Hayward both who have joined Friday night’s opponents the Lady Wolfpack, but overall it was an impressive looking Redbacks squad.
COVID-19 has thrown some curveballs into that and Mansfield won’t be playing with the Redbacks in 2020, but coach Craig Allen is excited for what the West Coast Classic holds.
“It’s been the longest pre-season in the history of the world I think. We were primed and ready to go, and really happy with the group we had put together with a good mix of quality experience as well as young kids coming through,” Allen said.
“We were really excited to go and then it all fell apart at the last hour sort of thing before the season was due to start. But we’ve pretty much got the same group together which is good. Lauren is still in South Australia so that’s not going to happen, but it’s a really enthusiastic group and they are great to work with.”
The fact that leaders like Jess Jakens and Denielle Lipscombe and then an emerging group of young players have all agreed to pull together for this West Coast Classic season is something that makes Allen confident in how they will perform.
“Everyone has agreed to come on board and play which is nice. It is a young group but Maddie adds a lot of experience and quality to the group, and obviously JJ and Del add that experience to our line-up as well,” he said.
“We’ve got a good mix of experience and some real quality people. But it’s a good blend of young kids coming through too and we’ll have seven teenagers in that group so it’s a good mix.”
The signing of Allen is particularly impressive for the Redbacks. Not only did she just have her best WNBL season with the Perth Lynx and has recently re-signed, but she was the Grand Final MVP last year in the Rockingham Flames’ SBL championship triumph.
But for Allen and the Redbacks, her signing is about more than just what she provides on the floor.
“The most exciting part of Maddie is what she brings to the whole club. Obviously we know what we get on court and the quality she provides from a basketball sense, but it’s the quality as a person that’s the real bonus for the club,” coach Allen said.
“She has thrown herself fully in and it’s a great environment at our club for the girls to be able to look up to girls like Maddie. It’s a really great environment and she is committed to giving a lot of her time to that pathway too which is awesome.”
Now that the West Coast Classic is finally here and that basketball action gets underway four months after the scheduled start of the SBL, Allen can feel the excitement amongst his playing squad.
“I think it’s just great for the players themselves. They just want to play and it’s a real hole in their day to day lives without playing basketball. It’s been fun to see them get back on the court to start enjoying it again,” Allen said.
“That part of it is good and obviously we are going through a pretty serious pandemic and we are lucky to live where we are so we shouldn’t make light of that, but the fact that we’ve put ourselves in a position to play is awesome. It’s exciting for the girls to get out and have a run around too.”
Then there are the Redbacks’ men who begin a new era following the standing down at the end of last season of club legend, and championship-winning player and coach Nik Lackovic.
He leaves quite the legacy behind him with the Redbacks, but if he was to hand over to someone, it’s hard to imagine anyone more respected or popular than 1990 championship-winning star CJ Jackson.
Jackson now returns as head coach of the Redbacks men having started his time in Western Australia with the club as a player back in that 1990 season.
It’s a remarkable come full circle journey, but Jackson isn’t just along for the ride and this Redbacks team will mean business in the West Coast Classic.
“It was exciting to come back to the team that initially took the chance on me. I felt like there was something I needed to repay the club for who take a chance on a kid from Moreno Valley,” Jackson said.
“For me to come back to the Redbacks is like a great homecoming and I was one of the first players on that Redbacks to play in this Belmont venue, so for me to come back was something I was really happy about and this was the only club I’d come back to and coach, and feel good about it.
“I think the opportunity to coach not only Tevin but Wags and all of our other guys on the roster, we had put together a team I thought would challenge really good.
“That got taken away in terms of the SBL season, but we have a chance to get back on the court now, the guys are enjoying the opportunity to get back to some normality of life and I think that’s what it is all about.”
Caleb White is still on board despite COVID-19 robbing the majority of teams of their imports, and then with his son Tevin Jackson, Dennis Tawhiti and Ezra Nikora among the other new faces, he has plenty of talent to work with.
Including the retained players like Joel Wagner and Zac Gattorna as well with Marshall Nelson to also play having initially not being available for the SBL season, and this is an exciting Redbacks group.
“Caleb White is still in town too because he came on a visitor’s visa and he’s still here. He has been training with us so he’ll be playing with us and we have Marshall Nelson out here with us right now as well because he didn’t get a chance to go and play where he was expecting to,” Jackson said.
“Ethan Vlahov is back as well and we’ve got Zac Gattorna back after a very good development year with the Adelaide 36ers and we are looking forward to what we can do in this new competition. We feel confident with the roster we have that we will do some good things and let it lead into next year.”