He is already a championship captain and the league’s all-time assists leader. On Saturday night, Joel Wagner will add a new accolade to the list when he becomes the all-time games record holder at the Perth Redbacks, surpassing a man he looked up to in his junior days, Matthew Earp.
Earp began his career with the Redbacks with a single appearance in 1991. From 1992 onwards, he was a mainstay of the club, amassing 364 appearances before his retirement in 2007.
Wagner spent the formative years of his career learning the ropes at Redbacks as a young point guard to Earp, the star veteran centre. In 2006 and 2007 in particular, they got to spend plenty of time out on the floor together.
As an emerging star of the SBL, Wagner would go on to enjoy a stint in the NBL with both the Perth Wildcats and Sydney Kings. It’s on returning to the Redbacks after these stints, that Wagner truly became the heart and soul of the men’s team.
He captained them to the championship in 2017 and his passing ability and how he runs the point has been so remarkable, he now is the clear leader in league history in terms of assists.
This Saturday night, the celebration of Wagner passing Earp’s 364-game mark with the Redbacks will take place at Belmont Oasis. But, in typical fashion, the captain and point guard’s focus will be on trying to inspire a win against Cody Ellis, Mike Ellis and the Warwick Senators.
When you are looking for high praise, it can come from few higher sources in WA basketball circles than Shawn Redhage.
The four-time Perth Wildcats NBL champion and six-time club MVP spent time with Wagner at the Wildcats together sharing in the 2010 championship. But it was when Redhage joined the Perth Redbacks especially for the 2017 SBL title that their bond was consolidated.
Redhage couldn’t speak more highly of Wagner now ahead of his record-breaking appearance.
“Joel deserves every record he can get and the service he has given to the Perth Redbacks is pretty remarkable. There are just some guys that you love taking the court with and Joel is one of those,” Redhage said on his Hoops Heaven Basketball Hustle podcast.
“He is a bulldog as a defender, super-smart as a point guard and I really enjoyed playing with him. He was a big reason why I chose to play with the Redbacks at the end of my NBL career just knowing I was going to line up with a guy who understood the game and knew how to play.
“We probably have an alignment just on our understanding of the game as well. I really enjoyed my couple of years playing with him firstly at the Wildcats, but then even more so being out there on court with him quite a bit at the Redbacks.
“There are some good memories there and congratulations to Joel, he deserves all the accolades he can get.”
Juggling a young family, work commitments and then still fully buying in to playing and leading the Redbacks has been an ongoing challenge for Wagner, but when a full season didn’t happen in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, he was always keen to return for 2021.
“Obviously family comes first and I’m working full-time again now as well so life has changed a little bit in the past 12 months that’s for sure,” Wagner said.
“But at the end of the day I committed to a season in 2020 that didn’t really end up being a full season so when I did talk to my wife Katie about it, I was able to say that season didn’t truly count so I had to commit to 2021.
“Having said that, I’m super excited to be coming back and it wasn’t a hard decision at the end of the day.”
Wagner could never imagine himself playing anywhere but the Redbacks. His passion for the club developed early when watching someone like Earp and has never dwindled over the last 18 years since he made his debut at SBL level.
“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.”
The fact that Wagner can say that he’s played his whole career with the Redbacks and not only does he lead the league in assists, but is the club’s games record holder will always be a tremendous source of pride.
“It’s something that I’m sure I’ll look back at when it’s all said and done, and be super proud of it. During the time it’s still happening you don’t spend too much time reflecting on it, but the club has always backed me right from when I was a junior missing out on teams,” Wagner said.
“I always felt the club and coaches still supported me, and so did the board and I feel like I can never repay that support fully myself. It’s a no-brainer to me to keep playing with the Redbacks, it’s the only club I want to play for it’s as simple as that.”
The biggest motivator his whole career was for Wagner to taste championship glory with the Redbacks and to be the captain of that 2017 team with Nik Lackovic as coach is something he’ll never forget.
“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.”