The Men’s program for the Melbourne Tigers are in the 3rd year of their return to the SEABL and it seems to of found a sudden burst of energy that no one saw coming.
With Tiger’s legend Andrew Gaze at the helm for the first 2 years, the Tigers were showing continual improvement each year. After 3 wins in year 1, they improved to 7 by the end of the second year. Andrew stood down as Head Coach after last season due to his commitments with the Sydney Kings and swapped seats with Nick Abdicevic to take over the Youth Men.
It was never going to be an easy task to try and get the Tigers to take the next step in their development with Daryl Corletto retiring and Dane Pineau, Ryan Oirbans leaving for other teams, also the decision not to retain Ari Stewart made it even harder for Nick as he stepped into the role. ‘It’s been very challenging, especially with some players not coming in and the fact that our budget is super low. This was heart breaking as I thought that some of those guys would be a lock. On a positive note, I have given opportunity to some guys who many didn’t think are SEABL level. This makes me super happy. I also love that all of our players are local and I’m extremely happy with my current squad.’ Nick said about coming into the role as coach and building the roster up.
Nick brought in Jack Bines who came up from the VYC team and convinced Jack’s brother Patrick to come back to basketball after taking some time away from the game. The Tigers first major signing of the season was Dexter Kernich-Drew who was a Melbourne Tigers junior who went on to become an NBL Championship player with the Perth Wildcats. Tom Wilson decided against going to play in the NZNBL and rejoined the Tigers and with the Tigers looking for some height, they got Deng Acouth, a 7 footer from the Sydney Kings development squad.
Jimmy Todd and Billy Hughes the only players left from their debut season and Ben Dixon and Livai Smith the only others from 2017. Melbourne then added Maxwell Viitalla, Dejan Kostur and Ivan Dukanac to round out the roster to start the season.
Melbourne didn’t have the greatest of starts to the season with a 19 point loss first up to Nunawading at home in Round 1, then losing to Albury-Wodonga at home as well by 14 in Round 2. Then things looked as though they hit rock bottom when the Tigers in Round 3 played the Kilsyth Cobras at Kilsyth. The Tigers were handed a mammoth beating to the tune of 55 points. ‘We made few tactical changes after the huge loss to Kilsyth but we also decided not to give up. We used that disappointing performance to drive us forward.’ Nick said about the start to the season. ‘Most importantly all of my players and staff believed in our plan moving forward. I’m one of those who never give up and I’m lucky to have others around me who are the same!’
When round 4 came around the Tigers were coming up against the newest team in the SEABL, the Diamond Valley Eagles. Many would of thought that Diamond Valley would win this game given the Tigers performances to date but Melbourne battled through and came out with their 1st win for the season. They backed it up the next day with a resounding win over Canberra. Despite a scare in Round 5 they came away with a win against Sandringham to notch up 3 in a row. The Tigers were starting to look solid as a team and Round 6 would provide Melbourne with a real test when they were scheduled to play one of the favourites to make the Grand Final, the Bendigo Braves. With the return of 2016 MVP Jeremy Kendle, the Braves had only dropped the 1 game at that stage. After a tough fought 1st half, Melbourne took control in the 3rd quarter to put Bendigo away running out 10 point winners. The only souring effect from that game was the knee injury to Jack Bines, who did his ACL and is out for the rest of the year. ‘Jack’s injury is a huge loss to our squad, as he has played a very important role this season. We don’t have that luxury to bring in someone else who can just like that replace him but by saying that I trust every single player on my squad and I know that whoever plays Jack’s role will also give me 100% effort. Jack is still part of our squad and will always be!!’ Knick said in regards to Jack’s injury and the impact it has had.
With the Tigers winning streak up to 4, the Tigers faced another stiff challenge when they faced the Basketball Australia team. Melbourne took care of business on their home court against BA and then the next day beat a disappointing Frankston side to go 6 wins in a row. The Tigers would face Sandringham again but in Sandringham in Round 8 and would suffer another scare but again found a way to scrape through for their 7th straight win.
‘I have great relationship with my players. I make them feel super important and we are collectively responsible for our actions. It helps knowing some of these guys for many years and with that comes trust!’ replied Nick when asked about the feeling between the coaching staff and the players and how they have come together for their current success. ‘The beauty of our team is that we are all one big family and we love each other. From players to admin to staff and rest of the club. We have so much pride in our club and its history and we will always give our best!’
With the Tigers sitting in 5th spot on the ladder before Round 9. The Tigers face another tough challenger in the Ballarat Miners who sit currently 3rd on the ladder. The Tigers have certainly come along way from the 0 – 3 start to the year. With just the Ballarat game to go before the Queens Birthday Long Weekend (Midseason break). The Tigers will be an exciting side to watch come the 2nd half of the season!