“A long year of nothing going right anywhere”: Rockingham Flames men’s coach laments season of woe but already looks forward to 2020
Nearly two weeks after being knocked out of the State Basketball League play-offs by the Perry Lakes Hawks the pain still lingers for the Rockingham Flames’ Ryan Petrik, but the first-year men’s coach has had no time to feel sorry for himself.
With wife Chelsea involved in a grand final push with the women’s team he’s had to move on quickly and remain upbeat for her sake, while his own attention has already turned towards building a championship-calibre team in 2020.
Speaking to the Sound Telegraph about a season that promised much, delivered occasionally and ultimately ended in disappointment, Petrik said every sporting team needed a bit luck on their side but 2019 proved “a long year of nothing going right anywhere” for his Flames.
There’s a hint of regret in his words and it’d be easy to write a lot of them off as a cop-out, but for the fact injuries to key players, off-court issues and outside commitments decimated the Flames throughout the season.
Petrik had his best squad available for just two games across the eventual 28-game season, with the Flames’ six most important players missing a combined 52 games.
US imports Josh Ritchart and Caleb White missed eight and two games respectively with calf and quad injuries; Greg Hire’s NBL and 3x3 commitments robbed the Flames of his service for nine games; Brad Robbins missed 16 games thanks to hamstring injuries and a season-ending Achilles injury; talented teen Luke Travers missed 10 games through a combination of back complaints and a college exposure trip to the USA; captain Ryan Godfrey missed five games; and Justin Beard’s mid-season holiday saw him miss two games.
Despite that, when the Flames were good they were arguably the most talented and watchable team in the SBL, finishing fourth on the ladder with an 18-8 win/loss record including a pair of impressive victories over eventual ladder leaders Joondalup.
But when they were bad...oh boy.
“You need to be very good yourself but you need some things to break your way and it’s been one of those years where nothing did - that’s how it works,” Petrik said.
“We were our own worst nightmare the entire year...we could never get the same group on the court from week to week. It changed constantly; every second week we had a different starting five and different players and guys in and out.”
A microcosm of how bad the season became is the fiasco that unfolded before game 1 of the quarterfinal series against Perry Lakes, when starting centre Chudier Pal was a no-show and all the team’s planning for the game was thrown into disarray five minutes before tip-off.
“To have your starting centre rock up halfway through the second quarter of game one - the biggest game of the year - when you’re already down 16 pretty much summed up our year,” Petrik said.
“That was something in our control...he wasted a lot of people’s time. You live and learn.”
Live and learn? What does he mean by that?
“Certainly we need to change stuff...the reality was this team wasn’t good enough,” Petrik said.
“Clearly the defence, which we were chasing to be improved, was much improved. How we played at times while undermanned was phenomenal...there were certainly some signs along the way but overall it was more of a wasted year.
“You need to know how close you are (to a championship). We think we’re pretty close but we also got knocked out in the quarters. We’ve got to change. We’ll try to remove distractions from within the group and there’s still a culture that needs to be fixed.
“How much of it you change is the million dollar question. You see it all the time in the NBA or AFL - teams that think they’re close go and get that one piece they think they’re missing and mortgage their future for it when in reality they were miles away and it sets them back decades.”
The job of fixing the culture has started in earnest, with some players already told they aren’t returning and others read the riot act.
“There are guys who have been told ‘this is where the bar is at, you either reach it or move on’,” Petrik said.
“We’re not moving that bar. If guys want to play for a team with lower expectations, go for it. But if they want to play for this club, in this program, in front of these fans and sponsors, they know what they have to be able to do.
“It’s been spelt out to them in black and white, there’s no question where the line is. Either they meet those obligations or they leave.”
Recruiting new players shouldn’t be a problem, with Rockingham now considering itself among the handful of the SBL’s ‘destination’ clubs, and with a season as the men’s mentor under his belt and the foundations of what he hopes is a more positive culture in place, it is now a matter of Petrik finding the pieces that fit into his system.
“The beautiful thing is people want to play in front of our crowd, in front of our fans - it’s a program players want to play in,” he said.
“They want to play alongside Greg Hire, they want to play in front of 1500 people in a regular season game. Some clubs you want to play for and the Rockinghams, Perry Lakes and Joondalups are clubs you want to play for.
“We know what we want to keep and what we want to change. The off-court culture is a work in progress and will take a while to fix, but on-court the players already have an idea of what we want to do and what the level is.
“Defensively they know the expectation and they know what the system looks like offensively too, so there’s some stuff there that’s already embedded.
“It’s a case of getting the pieces we want to keep re-signed and targeting the two or three guys we want to bring in.”
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