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Time to stand tall
Friday, February 22, 2013, 10:20:29 AM

By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters

It’s no secret Jesse Wagstaff wants to play for Australia, but is he the man Australia needs?

As mobile power forwards like Linas Kleiza, Andres Nocioni, Mika Vukona and Victor Khryapa become the norm rather than the exception, the Boomers need players who can mix it with them.

In London those men were Mark Worthington and Dave Barlow, but Perth coach Rob Beveridge thinks Wagstaff has the potential to be generation next.

“I do, because he likes a challenge and he’s a smart defender,” he said.

“Someone like Kleiza’s a big call - he’s pretty damn good. He would try to post you up, take it at you and try and score … But Jesse is the type of guy who’s hard to score on because he’s such a competitor.”

Wagstaff’s defence is one area Beveridge thinks will transfer well to the international game. Another is his basketball IQ.

“I think he’s one of the most intellectual players in the league, he really understands the game,” he said.

And that is crucial facing different countries with contrasting styles night after night, especially with the subtle physical battles international players engage in without attracting ire from the hawk-like FIBA referees.

“Jess has had to become much smarter, once you’ve been caught, don’t put your hand back in the cookie jar,” Beveridge said.

“He’s getting better at fighting the battles he knows he can win.”

But there are question marks too, like whether the 26-year-old can adjust to the required stretches at small forward?

“I'm not sure whether his game is as versatile as that,” dual Olympian Glen Saville said.

“It can be very difficult if you're not used to handling the ball and playing off the wings.”

Beveridge agrees and says the Wildcats coaching staff have been doing an "enormous amount of perimeter work with him to develop those small forward skills”.

“That’s where he needs to get to to be an international player,” he said.

Given Wagstaff has deferred to Shawn Redhage as the Wildcats’ primary starting small forward throughout his professional career, Beveridge also wants to see him step up and show he has the metle to claim a Boomers position from a more experienced candidate.

“He always liked to play second fiddle to Shawn, he was happy to come off the bench and do what he needed to do,” Beveridge said.

“Now is his time to put his hand up and say, 'I'm one of the top 10 players in the league'.”

But Saville doesn’t think toughness, mental or physical, is an issue for the 26-year-old. 

“He’s got something about him, he plays tough, he plays physical, he’s an antagonist, he’s always out there having a crack,” he said.

“From that perspective, you do have to be able to take toughness and hardness to the international level, so I think he can tick that box.”

With Perth on track for another playoff appearance, Beveridge wants Wagstaff exploiting his expanded offensive arsenal to help secure a Wildcats championship and show he’s not afraid of the big stages he would face with the Boomers.

“He’s clutch, he’s ice, he rarely gets rattled no matter what happens,” Beveridge said.

“I need him come finals time, he will be a big-minute player for me because he’s just so smart. He can make the big shot, he can go off the dribble, he can post a guy up, he’s very difficult to defend now.”