As the tip-off of the 2011-12 National Basketball League season continues to near, we continue our preview series on the nine teams of the league. With our preview of the Sydney Kings already in the bag, we turn to one of the most successful teams in NBL history, the Perth Wildcats. And who better to provide this preview than Perth resident and life-long Wildcats observer, Haggard of Can’t Buy A Basket.
2010-11 Regular Season: 16-12 (fourth)
Where are they coming from?
The Wildcats entered the 2010-11 NBL season with their heads held high displaying the 2009-10 NBL Championship trophy proudly on their mantle. Success runs deep in the veins of the Wildcats organisation — after 25 consecutive playoff appearances and five championships the Wildcats have earned the right to consider themselves the most successful NBL franchise of all time.
After a few away losses early in the season the Wildcats began to string some wins together before suffering injuries. The ‘hair up there’ Matty Knight went down twice with a calf injury, ‘wriggler in chief’ Jesse Wagstaff succumbed to a serious ankle injury which allowed future Los Angeles Lakers draftee Ater Majok and the ‘beast’ by name but not by game Andre Brown to walk through the revolving door onto the team before Shawn Redhage’s freak injury ruled him out for the rest of the season.
The frustrated wildcats made the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round by the eventual champions, the New Zealand Breakers.
Who are the stars?
Although Redhage is a six time team club MVP (a feat only matched by Wildcat legend Ricky Grace), many eyes will be following him as he attempts to bounce back from a dislocated hip. Mind you, if anyone was going to fully commit to rehabilitation it would be Redhage. The man is a work horse and after putting in the hard yards the initial signs are showing that Redhage is progressing well and will be good to go for the start of the season. The bigger questions on peoples’ minds are; is he going to be able to go all season? Will he be as good as he was before the injury? How (if at all) is his game going to change?
Kevin Lisch inked a multi year deal in the off season and returns not only a season older, but a season wiser. Lisch was the co-club MVP for 2010-11 with Redhage and Kevin is really looking to cement himself as a superstar of the NBL this season. Lisch was one of the better Wildcats on the road last season but will benefit from having good games more consistently. Lining up alongside Lisch in the backcourt is Damian Martin. Martin is the reigning NBL defensive player of the year and has spent this off-season training and playing with the Boomers under Brett Brown. Expect Martin to continue filling the stat sheets, and though he isn’t going burn you on the score board you can mark my words that Marto will be snapping up rebounds, stealing balls, swatting shots, dropping dimes and generally making life tough for opposing point guards.
On the rise?
Damian Martin isn’t the only Wildcat that will benefit from time with the Boomers this off season. Jesse Wagstaff spent time in the Boomers camp and was one of the better players in the series against China. There is no doubt that this former Rookie of the Year is looking to take his game to the next level
Small forward Cameron Tovey surprised and silenced many critics last season and thrived in head coach Rob Beveridge’s system taking his game from ‘NBL role player’ to ‘legit NBL starter’. Tovey developed a three point shot and hit as many threes last season as he had in all his seasons before that. The Wildcat fans are hoping for Tovey to continue to thrive especially with Stephen Weigh’s decision to switch clubs.
Matty Knight suffered another injury to the calf muscle playing for the Willetton Tigers in Western Australia’s SBL. Though Matty appears to have overcome this latest setback and is currently in full training with the squad and participating in pre-season games, should this calf muscle create more problems causing Knight to miss regular season games then the Wildcats are looking thin up top having Jeremiah Trueman and Wagstaff as the only solutions to fill time at the centre position. If an injury to a big man is going to be long term the Wildcats do have enough room in the points cap to deactivate that player and sign an import but if an injury was going to be a game here or there then that could affect the Wildcats as they search for the ever important home court advantage come playoff time.
The Wildcats have also lived by the three ball and died by the three ball. Combined three point shooting as a team is again going to be a key to this team’s success. Kevin Lisch, Drew Williamson and Shawn Redhage can all shoot the lights out but there are times that they all go cold.
How is the roster shoring up?
Import Andre Brown was advised as soon as the season finished that his services won’t be required next season and though Brown publically stated that he wanted to play himself into a contract for this season you can’t help but think that he played himself out of a contract. With ten players signed to contracts the roster is looking complete. The only other change to last years team is Stevie Weigh who left the club and signed with the Adelaide 36ers. 2010-11 Wildcats development player Greg Hire quietly filled the vacancy left by Weigh.
The Wildcats core players have built a solid foundation and are a group of people who openly express how much they enjoy each other’s company and how great it is to play alongside each other and you can see this in the way they play on the court. You can see the level of trust and support in every player dressed in a Wildcats uniform.
Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, the Cats have looked to secure giant centre Luke Nevill, who has been training with the squad. They have also put their hat in the “Andrew Bogut Sweepstakes” ring.
Where will they finish?
Many analysts and fans have made an early prediction that the Wildcats are going to be competitive this season, some even touting them as favourites. You can rest assured that the Wildcats are going to be strong this year. Their defensive intensity really changes the way other teams play. Expect the Wildcats to push deep into the playoffs.
Editor’s Prediction: Wildcats finish the season second on the ladder and go to the Grand Final.