The Final Whistle – 2018 Season Tip Off

And so it begins. Like clockwork we roll into the beginning of March, the New Year break is well and truly behind us, and finally everyone’s attention is shifting to the final week of preparation before another Big V season tips-off.

Most teams have been back on the floor for a month with coaches no doubt hoping their players took Christmas cheer only so far. After all, it takes more than just a few training sessions to shake off the Christmas pudding.
 
How are the recruits settling in? Will we be better than last season? Have we got the mix right, do we have enough depth, do we have an x-factor? What brand of play will we bring to the court, what’s our point of difference?
 
All common questions being asked at every club.

Everyone has expectations, a sense of excitement and anticipation. It’s the beauty of a new season as every team starts from the same position – zero wins and zero losses.

With 12 divisions and 140-plus teams there will be plenty of first-timers running around – a triple-treat of new players, coaches and referees. Then of course the familiar names will be ‘going around again’ like moths to the Big V flame that shines brightly between March and August.

Whilst preparing notes for a ninth year of Big V TV (yes, hard to believe it’s been that long), the sheer growth and sprawling expansion of Australia’s largest senior State League cannot be missed. Though I see plenty of familiar names as I scan through the teams, there’s plenty of new ones set to keep us all entertained as well.
 
Personally I always enjoy the unknown when it comes to rising stars emerging – last year it was probably Jack Roberts (Blackburn) who topped my list, this year another will set up, but who will it be?

Burgeoning basketball programs continue to flourish. A decade ago we were welcoming the likes of Camberwell, McKinnon and Warrandyte into the Big V. Time sure does fly and all three clubs are now well settled with four teams each.

Come 2018 we are starting to see big steps taken by the likes of Pakenham, Wallan and Collingwood. Who would have thought, hey? No disrespect, but I didn’t know where Wallan was until a few years ago!

Casey is an association that highlights the growth of junior representation with a pathway to a Big V program, while their Big V program is starting to capitalise on that same junior growth.
 
The Cavs look a future force, just give them some time.

No doubt within the same expanding corridor we will see continued advancements made by Pakenham in the years to come as well.

To the west you can’t help but feel it is only a matter of time before we see Werribee deliver a complete package in the highest divisions. The Devils have a long history of success and with that fantastic new facility of theirs and increased numbers picking up a basketball you can’t help but feel the next few years might deliver a championship or two.
 
I always enjoy the fortnight lead-up into the new season. In some circles the talk of imports, gun recruits and rising stars barely gets above being a whisper, coaches preferring to stay on the downlow and wait for the season to start to properly asses where their team sits.
 
While other teams, perhaps with a touch more bravado, be it a sense of being brave or maybe a little too over-confident, get on the front foot and beat their chest with plenty of gusto before the opening tip of the ‘proper’ season.
 
After 15 years in the coaching chair I can say with complete certainty that reading anything into pre-season games is a foolish mistake. Don’t look at a February hit-out and for one second think that the result is a ‘good’ indicator of what is set to unfold in the months ahead. 
 
Pre-season is exactly that – it is the period of time before the real season begins. Coaches use practice games for looking, trying, encouraging and exploring.
 
Unfortunately not all clubs have enjoyed a strong and vibrant off-season. News filtered through earlier this month that Mornington has decided to withdraw its senior men’s team for 2018, a blow for what has traditionally been a competitive team in and around Division 2 over the last decade.
 
In recent times we have seen Southern Peninsula bravely, and smartly, step back and withdraw its men’s team, preferring to ‘start again’ and focus on stability and sustainability. To their credit, the Sharks took stock of where they were at and where they wanted to be as a complete basketball program – juniors to seniors.
 
The result has been somewhat of a success, I only hold back from calling it a complete success because the powers that be down at the Shark Tank will be the first to say the job isn’t done yet. While the senior men are back on court and performing well, excitingly proving a pathway for their rising stars, the stability and sustainability pieces are still a work in progress.
 
Hopefully Mornington looks no further than Southern Peninsula and takes on board the path their nearby neighbours took when they also decided to take a step back. A vibrant Breakers senior men’s team is hopefully not too far away from returning.
 
Other news during the off-season saw Diamond Valley’s State Champ teams move over to SEABL and we wish them well. We’re all big kids in this basketball playpen and it shouldn’t be lost on us as increased competition also provides us with increased opportunities to work together.
 
Unfortunately the siege mentality that exists far too often in basketball continues to damage those who don’t want to or know how to work with each other. Anyway, that’s a column for another day.
 
I’ve always highly admired the Eagles and their strong ambitions, both on and off the floor. I know the administration out there is working hard towards future development of facilities and it can’t come quick enough for such a basketball-friendly community.
 
Regionally we once again expect the likes of Warrnambool, Mildura and Latrobe City to snare plenty of headlines, though the Energy will look a lot different without Tanarly Hoods (moved to Casey) in their women’s team.
 
Heading towards the border, North East has certainly had some time to settle into Big V life and hopefully we will see both their men and women take some strides forward in 2018, while just down the road in Shepparton there is a sense of excitement as maybe a former champion returns to the fold.
 
All in all a big season is on the way. As we count down the days to the opening round the excitement will only grow.
 
Big V TV returns shortly with a daily show once again, no doubt the opening month of the season will provide plenty to talk about as we settle in for another run at 12 Big V championships.
 
For now though, the Final Whistle has blown.
The Final Whistle is an opinionated column written by staff writer Justin Nelson. All views in this article are expressed by the author and may not be those of the Big V.
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