"Never really wanted to leave": Tim Coenraad's return helping fuel Hawks finals run

The Illawarra Hawks are on the cusp of an NBL Grand Final berth, with veteran Tim Coenraad's playing an important role.

Having played 310 games with the Hawks, including two grand final series and a club MVP in 2015, Tim Coenraad returned to the hardwood, demonstrating why he is one of the favourite sons of the Illawarra Hawks faithful.

Having retired at the end of last season, Coenraad had commenced transitioning into a community engagement role with the club, but with Cam Bairstow’s injury the call out was made for the small forward to return to play in the red, black, and white.

“I never really wanted to leave. It was never a case of me no longer wanting to play – it is just how the situation was,” explained Coenraad. “It was just a case of the Hawks going in a different direction, and like Brian [Goorjian[ said, he did not get a chance to see me in person and recruited how he thought was best and that did not include me at the time.

“The NBL has said that they have in the past let guys slip through the cracks who have deserved more of a send-off – so they let me know that if I were retiring that they would do it right.”

Named to play (although not seeing court time) against Adelaide on the 11th of May, he has gone on to play seven games this season and his contributions are being noticed.

“I am there to try to stretch the floor that little bit more for Tyler [Harvey] and Justinian [Jessup] – and being that extra threat on the perimeter. On the offensive end it is making sure I shoot the ball and open those options up for our main guys on the defensive end.

“We know that it’s everybody’s role and responsibility to lock in the scout and make sure we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work off that.”

The Hawks returned to playoffs for the first time since 2017 and the current group is beginning to click at the perfect time. Just one win away from advancing against he Perth Wildcats, Coenraad explained he would continue to contribute as was needed.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I have been doing. No matter how much I play I am making sure I contribute and look after the defensive end through my rebounds. If I do those things then the offensive end will take care of itself – and really give Tyler, Justinian, and Emmett [Naar] to work in.”

The Hawks have multiple options available across the court, with outside shooting stars in Harvey, Jessup and Naar enjoying big seasons.

“You can really feel that the chemistry is there, we know where we want to get the shots from and there is nothing better than playing on a team with guys who are on the same page. Anybody who knows basketball knows how important AJ [Oglivy] is to our team and what he is capable of. Sam [Froling] has really come into his own this season also. A lot of people will see his offense end explosion, but it is really his defensive effort I have found most impressive.

“He knows now that he is big enough and long enough to really play more without fouling, which is great for us. I hope what I bring also allows him to stretch the floor and open up space for him because down low we know he is one of the best at sniffing out the bucket and getting to where he needs to be.

“It’s been really good to see him develop but it’s also great to see AJ back on the team and playing at his best because some of the things he is capable with his size you don’t see too often.”

Their leader, Brian Goorjian, is a six-time NBL championship coach with just as many coach of the year awards to his name. He is also making a return as head coach of the Australian Boomers at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. The opportunity to play under an Australian coaching icon is something that Coenraad holds with great respect.

“His expectations, particularly on the defensive end are extremely high – which is what you need…and as I have said before, no team wins if they are unable to protect the defensive end. It is key as it feeds into our offense, and we look a lot better through that. He holds us all accountable.”

Since his return, Coenraad’s playing time has varied which is something that does not phase the veteran.

“We just go with the feel of the game. I will never sulk about my minutes; I am there for my team and will always be a team guy. I just need to make sure that when I do get the minutes that I am taking full advantage of them.”

With a career that has spanned over a decade, Coenraad has been able to play alongside and clashed with a range of diverse talent, something that made it hard for the usually confident forward to pinpoint a couple of stars that stood out in his mind ahead of the pack.

“That’s a good question! I would say Xaviar Cooks is one of those guys -- just because of how talented he is. He has a lot of things in his game that I really wish I had. Jesse Wagstaff – he has a similar journey to me as he came into the league around the same time and is a one- club guy. He has that outside shot with that inside protection – he is just a really high IQ player.

“Another guy would be Finn Delaney – he is a real talent, and he is going to be something real special in the future.”

Game one of the playoffs series between the Hawks and the Wildcats was a tight contest. With the reigning champs leading 39-33 at halftime the Illawarra side battled back to take the clash in the end by a single basket 74-72.

Coenraad’s contribution saw him bring 10 points and three boards with 25 minutes of court time as a further argument to his remaining talent and input he has for this team and the league. With game two taken by the Perth Wildcats (79-71) it means the Hawks now travel to Perth for the series decider.

Proving he can still deliver valuable contributions at NBL level bodes the question; would he be considering a return next season? With a brief chuckle, Coenraad hinted there may yet be plenty more gas left in the tank.

“I am enjoying being a part of what’s happening this season as it doesn’t come around that often. While you are in it you want to take full advantage of it and enjoy it while I’ve got it,” he said.

“Do I want to keep playing – for sure!”

Game 3 against the Perth Wildcats is on Monday, 14 June, tipping off at 9:30pm AEST.