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Featured News / February 17th, 2017

The man behind that hair

Greg Hire had the game of a four man but it was never going to take him far in the NBL so he knuckled down and through sheer dedication has turned himself into someone comfortable in the back court. And that dedication spreads through his whole life.

When Hire arrived at his hometown Perth Wildcats, then coach Rob Beveridge admired his heart and dedication, but while the way he played suited the power forward spot it was never going to work to any great extent at NBL level.

Not to be deterred, Hire diligently worked on his game but more importantly his body to the point where now he finds himself playing as a three man who can have stints at the two.

He can guard players that would never have been possible when he started his career. He can hit five three-pointers in a game now when five years ago it might have taken him two full seasons to do such a thing.

On top of it all, Hire is nearing 200 games, is vice-captain at the Wildcats and is already a two-time championship winner entering this Swisse NBL Finals Series where Perth takes on the Cairns Taipans with Game 1 at Cairns Convention Centre on Friday night.

There is a lot more to the story than that with former captain Brad Robbins an inspiration to a lot of it, but away from basketball Hire has dedicated himself to helping youth and raising awareness for mental health while also having a new baby boy along with a wife awaiting him at home.

None of it would have been possible without Hire dedicating himself to transform his game and body from when he started his NBL career coming out of Augusta State University.

Hard work has never been something that Hire has been afraid of and that started right back to his pre-college days and continued to when he arrived at the Wildcats as a development player.

After initially being cut from the West Australia under-18s team, Hire worked on the areas that had let him down to go on to make the team three straight years but then after college, he arrived at the Wildcats and realised he had a lot of improvement left to be able to make it in the NBL.

Working hard on his body and then his game was a big task, but the hard work paid off when he reflects on the dedication it required.

“My first goal was on working to become a professional athlete and I was under the tutelage of our strength and conditioning coach Andrew Ivey. I did everything he told me to do and I did above and beyond what was required,” Hire told NBL Media.

“That first year was huge in terms of the relationship I built with Shawn Dennis as well. Bevo was looking after the team but SD took me under his wing and mentored me in terms of learning how to be a better player on the court. That was huge in my development.

“They told me I wouldn’t make it as an undersized four man so I had to find a way to be able to play as a three, so we worked on that. The biggest thing then was getting the opportunities. You never want injuries but we had Jesse (Wagstaff), Matty (Knight) and Shawn (Redhage) getting hurt in that season.

“My very first game I battled against Luke Schenscher and got two fouls on my first two possessions, but it’s all a learning experience. Bevo gave me the chance and we ended up in Illawarra and we got pumped, but in the fourth quarter he put me on and I wanted to make my mark.

“I ended up with seven rebounds in a quarter and that’s where Bevo recognised my heart and desire to be part of the program.”

When he was no longer eligible to be a development player after that 2010/11 season, Hire still thought his time was up.

Damian Martin suggested he become the club’s strength and conditioning coach, but the departure of Stephen Weigh opened the door for Hire and he banged it down.

“I was at the stage where I thought I had given it a fair crack and I might need to move on but luckily for me Stevie left for Adelaide and I battled Tommy Jervis for that remaining spot,” he said.

“Tommy got his chance later on but I made sure I did everything I could playing SBL and then showing Bevo I deserved a spot. Ever since I have done everything I can to solidify my spot as a three man and making sure I stick to my strengths.

“As an undersized four, I had that speed but as a three, I’ve always had the heart and desire to use my body and strength to get offensive rebounds and impact that way.”

Hire had a body made for banging bodies with the big men inside when he started his NBL career. He just didn’t have the height that was going to make that a long-term prospect.

He knuckled down with the Wildcats’ strength and conditioning maestros, firstly Andrew Ivey and then Will Markwick, to transform his body into one capable of competing with the more athletic wing players in the NBL.

“Now if you look at the three men, they are quicker and more athletic, which really changed when Jimmy Ennis came in. I had to refine my game so I spent the off-season smashing my body two a day sessions with our new strength and conditioning coach Will Markwick to change my body,” Hire said.

“In order for me to be successful I’ve had change the way I eat, my recovery and my strength program because what was successful six years ago by getting functional size and strength is no longer good.

“So I have to focus on those minor motor skills, and my quickness and speed. Then to maintain my standard and excel, I need to continue to put my body through those rigors in the off-season so I can keep being able to compete.”

In college, Hire wasn’t expected to hit the outside shot at Augusta State. He had always been an interior player and his strength to rebound even if undersized and finish around the basket made him a standout.

He just wasn’t going to be able to play that role as effectively in the NBL though, so to make it his shooting from the outside had to improve.

It undoubtedly has to the point where he is shooting a more than respectable 41 per cent from three-point territory this season.

He even hit five threes on his way to a career-best 20 points back in Round 18 against the Brisbane Bullets.

“I can now make those shots because of the work I’ve put in over the years. I get up as many shots as I can and I’ve spent a lot of time with coaches watching hours of footage of how I can improve my shooting,” Hire said.

“Now I am being smarter in the way I train where before I would just shoot but now I focus on only working on shots I will realistically take in a game.

“It’s amazing how much that can help because I’ve focused on the shots that I will take in a game, and then when those chances come up in a game I have the confidence that they will go in because I had done so much in training.”

When Hire arrived at the Wildcats as a development player for the 2010/11 season they were coming off a championship and the two men who Hire soon bonded with was Cameron Tovey and Brad Robbins.

The Tovey connection stemmed from them both being WA locals and sharing a host of similar traits.

But with Robbins to start off with, it was a case of opposites attract. Robbins was the grizzled leader who would call a spade a spade, and demand his teammates give their all.

He was the captain who helped shape the culture of the playing group while dealing with the pressures of raising his son Charlie. Hire came on board as the over-energetic and enthusiastic development player desperate to find his feet and make his mark.

Things didn’t get off to an ideal start when Hire was scared to even speak up to Robbins on their first road trip, but he soon wore his captain down.

“When I first came to the club Tovey was the first guy I gravitated to as a fellow WA local and Robbo was as intimidating as buggery. He didn’t talk to you a lot but as a leader I always respected him and he held everyone accountable, and didn’t care who he was talking to,” he said.

“I didn’t really speak to him until we got on the road and I was his roommate. He was basically a single father to Charlie and he was exhausted so as soon as we got in the room, I was watching TV during the middle of the day but he wanted to sleep and asked me to turn the TV off.

“I just turned it off and just sat there for two hours while he napped, but we started to spend a lot of time together and really got along.

“I think he appreciated my energy and he mentored me from that point on. He wasn’t a highly skilled player either, but no one would argue that his desire or hunger or effort levels weren’t the most on the court.”

Hire and Robbins would go on to become close friends to the point where Hire was distraught when Robbins announced his retirement. But in turn, Robbins recommending Hire for the leadership group was the start of his journey to his current vice-captain role.

“He wanted me to be captain of the development players to give me that responsibility and that was huge,” Hire said.

“Then when he retired, I still remember when he told me at the airport and I was absolutely hysterical because I wouldn’t have my best mate around me.

“On top of that we were losing an inspirational captain. He kept recommending me to be in the leadership group after he left and that showed how much he respected me.”

Not only do they remain close friends and Robbins has remained involved in the NBL as a Fox Sports commentator, but their bond could last a lifetime with Robbins now dating the sister of Hire’s wife.

“I’m very lucky to have such a supportive family and my extended family now includes Robbo. I still talk to him about basketball and how I can be a better leader and player, and we bounce off ideas off each other,” he said.

“I honestly think he gave up the game too early and he understands that too, but it’s amazing that there are guys who come and go during your basketball career, but we’ve kept that mateship that will see our families grow up together.”

Speaking of that family, Hire and his wife Ainsleigh welcomed their first son, Sullivan, into the world in late October and it’s another thing to add an extra perspective to life for him.

“Having Sully at home gives me that outlet where you can escape everything else. Whether it’s trying to put a smile on his face, wondering why he’s crying, changing his nappy or putting him to sleep, you cherish these moments,” Hire said.

“To have a loving wife and son who don’t care how I play in a game of basketball or if we win or lose, is amazing to go home to.

“It changes your priorities and it’s such an exciting part of your life. I hope I can keep playing for the Wildcats where my son grows up coming to the games and can come into the changerooms after we win a championship.”

Even when a development player, Hire began working with disadvantaged youth and has long done plenty for his local community through the Wanneroo Basketball Association.

Now that his platform has grown, he has been working closely with Youth Focus WA to help people dealing with mental health challenges. He has continued that through starting his own charity A Stitch in Time.

“I became an ambassador with Youth Focus and I had some significant people in my life struggling, so that allowed me to become educated on mental illness,” he said.

“Two years later, I saw a massive opportunity in the mental health landscape where I could be a powerful advocate with my role in the community and the networks I’ve built. Hence why I launched A Stitch in Time and that has continued to grow.

“Every single day someone will talk to me about someone with mental health problems, and while I’m not trained in that field yet, my focus is on raising awareness and diminishing those barriers to allow people the ability to converse about it in a way that is natural.”

Putting things in perspective and highlighting how valuable a contribution Hire feels he can make was a trip to the small Kimberley community of Looma last year.

“Last off-season I went up to the Kimberley and spent a week in Derby and Looma. Looma was a town where a 10-year-old girl took her own life so for me to go into that community and offer some hope was extremely powerful,” Hire said.

“If you look at the fortunate position where we get to play basketball as a living and go home to a family with food to eat, it puts in perspective how tough life is when you see what a town like Looma is going through.

“I’ve introduced a fantastic platform to spark talk about mental health and we hope to continue to grow that.”