Illawarra Hawks head coach Rob Beveridge believes his team is one star player away from becoming a championship-winning outfit.
Speaking to NBL Media about his club’s 2017-18 roster, Beveridge said he hoped to recruit an import wing in the mould of two-time champion Casey Prather (Perth) or NBL Best Defensive Player Torrey Craig (Brisbane) to help lead Illawarra to the title.
The Hawks have made the playoffs four times in the past five years – including both seasons with Beveridge as head coach – but have been eliminated by the Perth Wildcats on each occasion. However, with a core group of returning players already under contract, including high-scoring import Rotnei Clarke and All-NBL First Team centre AJ Ogilvy, the Hawks believe the time has come to take the next step.
“We’ve identified that, basically, we’re one stud away,” Beveridge told NBL Media.
“We’ve targeted, particularly in the three spot, we just want a legit player, a guy that just flat-out plays. We need to somehow try and get a player in that mould; the Torrey Craig or Casey Prather type.”
The Hawks had 6-foot-4 swingman Marvelle Harris in that role last year, but the first-year pro battled injury and inconsistency throughout the season. This time around, Beveridge and General Manager Kim Welch are looking for someone with greater experience.
“In that three spot I need a guy that has been out of college for a few years,” Beveridge said.
“Whether they’ve played in Europe or they’ve played in the D-League or something, they’re seasoned – they’re men – rather than a college kid type of thing.
“We’ve got the surrounding pieces – we’ve got AJ, we’ve got some good guards in Mitch (Norton) and a scorer in Rotnei – and I think we just need that stud three man that when things go to s–t they can lock somebody down and they can score.”
Illawarra had the second-most efficient offense in the NBL last season, ranking behind only Adelaide for points per 100 possessions (110.9).
Their defence, however, was inconsistent, combining a league-leading steal percentage (10.6) with a league-lowest defensive rebounding percentage (66.4). In the end, despite causing havoc with their extended pressure, only Brisbane possessed a less efficient defence on the year.
“From a team perspective I thought we did an outstanding job; we shared the ball nicely and we scored well,” Beveridge said.
“Our defence was up-and-down again, which was frustrating, and our rebounding wasn’t as good as what I wanted it to be.”
Ogilvy and fellow Australian big man, Nick Kay, will again carry the load on the glass but Beveridge hopes to recruit some help, aiming for an import with slightly more experience than last year’s import, Michael Holyfield.
“As a back-up big, we need somebody who can defend, screen and help in the rebounding department,” Beveridge said.
“We bought Holyfield in to be that rebounder last year but I just think he probably got taken out of the game. He was too physical and I think players like him – guys like him and (Sydney Kings centre) Aleks Maric – I don’t think they were allowed to play. They had a lot of raw deals and I think that hurt Mike’s confidence.
“We probably need to get a little bit more seasoned in those positions.”
On the topic of seasoned performers, the Hawks have decisions to make regarding two long-serving veterans – Oscar Forman and Tim Coenraad – who are currently free agents.
Forman, 35, played a reduced role last season that saw him average 6.4 points per game in 12.6 minutes on the floor. Of course, the sharpshooter still had some big nights; lighting up the Kings in Round 12 and firing the Hawks into the playoffs with a team-high 26 in their final regular season game.
Coenraad, meanwhile, was outstanding during last year’s playoffs – especially during the Semi Finals when he averaged 17.6 points per game on 53 percent shooting from the field.
According to Beveridge, the Hawks take a “holistic approach” to managing their senior players and Coenraad and Forman are “still part of the conversation.”
“We have made no offers to anybody at all it, zero, because we want to go through the process with Timmy and Oscar and work out, ‘okay, where are you guys at?’” Beveridge explained.
“Those conversations have only taken place in the last few days. The message is, ‘we’re not recruiting anybody at all until you tell us what you want to do.’ So that is the process with those two.”
Coenraad, who turns 32 next month, is a particularly intriguing free agent. His finals form was really impressive, he’s always in terrific shape and, clearly, still has plenty to offer. On the other hand, he and his wife have put down some serious roots in the ‘Gong, having recently adopted their third child and established a growing small business in the area.
So, while there are certainly other teams in the market for non-restricted small forwards just like him – Cairns being one of them – it would need to be a pretty good situation to convince him to leave town.
Beveridge, who sees nobody on the free agents list “who could replace Timmy or Oscar”, is not in any rush. These, after all, are the final few pieces of a championship puzzle.
“I know we’re close,” he said.
“Probably the biggest challenge that I see is trying to get the guys to believe. You look at Perth, they were lucky to make the playoffs but as soon as they made the playoffs they just pumped their chests out and flexed their muscles and went ‘okay here we go, we’ve been there and done that, so if you want this championship you’ve gotta go through us.’
“They’ve had their core group together for a while, so you bring in a couple of studs and it’s like, you can win a championship.
“I feel we’ve got a really good core and if we can get another really, really legit import and a good back-up five, we’ll be in the mix again.”
It’s an assignment that has the Hawks – particularly assistant coaches Eric Cooks and Matt Flinn – working through hours of vision from all over the world, searching for a diamond in the rough.
“We’ve got to find that extra player that can lead,” Beveridge said.
“We’ve got the core, we’ve got the foundations; we just need that one extra stud player in the team.”
Written for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria