Being a member of the Perth Wildcats comes with high expectations.
The Wildcats have made the NBL postseason every year since 1987, and have won the championship on eight occasions. By their own lofty expectations, last season was a disappointment after being swept by the Adelaide 36ers in the first round of the postseason.
It’s something that the Wildcats have taken to heart. With new weapons acquired during free agency and current big guns recommitting to the franchise, the ‘Cats are heading into the new season with renewed purpose.
Perth has enjoyed success in the NBL for much of its existence, and the last five seasons under the stewardship of head coach Trevor Gleeson have been particularly fruitful. In the Gleeson era, the Wildcats have made the playoffs every year and won the championship three times, a staggering 60% championship rate.
Winning is never easy, and every season presents new challenges. Championship seasons can never be taken for granted – it’s a fact Gleeson knows all too well. Despite the complexities that come with an NBL season, Perth’s ethos is simple – let the players play.
“One of the biggest things that we did was empower the players a little bit more, certainly more than I have in the past. Really, it’s the players’ team and [it’s] giving them the voice. They had the talent to win it and that was a major part of the success we’ve had here, and hopefully will continue to have here.” Gleeson said.
Despite finishing last season in third place and advancing to the playoffs once again, Perth sees plenty of room for improvement.
The 2017/18 season was a tale of two halves. The Wildcats got off to a strong start; winning 10 of their first 14 games and stringing together a five-game winning streak, predominantly on the road.
From Round 11 though, the cracks began to show. The Wildcats lost eight of their final 14 games and were unable to string together more than two consecutive wins.
It was a frustrating end to a season, that began with such promise.
“We had a few changes throughout the course of the year,” Gleeson shared.
“Obviously the year before, Shaun Redhage retired, that was one thing [we lost] from our leadership perspective, and then we had Matt Knight retire six games into [last] season. We had an import (Devondrick Walker) that went down early.
“So we really went through a lot of change and I don’t think we handled it that well in the back end of the season. We certainly started well, but we didn’t keep improving in the way you need to to win a championship.”
In spite of a season that fell short of the organisation’s championship aspirations, the year was not devoid of silver linings, with a number of players gaining the league’s recognition. Perth’s golden boy Damian Martin won a record sixth Best Defensive Player Award, cementing his place as the NBL’s greatest defensive player.
“If I had a team full of Damos I would have won ten championships,” Gleeson said.
“He’s just the heart and soul of the team. He plays at an extraordinarily hard level and practices that way to.
“Now he’s getting to the later stage of his career and we are trying to do everything we can to prolong that. He passes information down to the next generation, so we are pretty strong. Damo will be a big part of the Wildcats’ success, and hopefully he will have a great year again.”
American import Bryce Cotton followed up his impressive debut NBL season with another tremendous year, winning the MVP award and being selected to the All-NBL First Team.
Bryce Cotton drops the best first quarter score in @PerthWildcats Finals history with 19 points to open this one up 😱 We haven’t seen these scenes since last year’s Grand Final #NBL18Finals pic.twitter.com/ZRyq8j8QU4
— NBL (@NBL) March 9, 2018
“Bryce is just a quality player,” Gleeson said.
“He has that rare ability to make his teammates better players when he plays with them. He’s unselfish, he’s a great teammate and he does everything for the team first.”
On 15 June, Cotton consolidated his commitment to the club, signing a three-year deal with a NBA out-clause, much to Gleeson’s delight.
“We’re so happy that Bryce is here for the next three years, that we can build around him. We’re looking forward to having a great year.”
With Cotton returning, the Wildcats wanted to find ways to reduce some of the scoring pressure they felt was on Cotton’s shoulders last season.
To help remedy that issue, the Wildcats signed American guard Terrico White. Coming off a year in the Korean Basketball League that saw him win the title and Playoff MVP, White undoubtedly brings some extra offence to Perth.
For Gleeson, signing White was a no-brainer.
“We needed some perimeter help and that was evident from last year when we fell away towards the back end of the season.,”
“He’s really going to stretch the defence; he can play above the rim, he’s great with the pick and roll and he’s a very good spot up shooter. So there are three things that are really going to help us down there and take some pressure off Bryce weekly.”
— NBL (@NBL) July 27, 2018
As well as an additional import in White, the Wildcats also brought in some local talent. During the frantic free agent period they snared young guns Mitch Norton and Nick Kay from Illawarra, and big man Tom Jervis, returning to Perth after a two-year stint in Brisbane.
For Jervis, coming back to the club that gave him his start in the NBL was an easy adjustment.
“It’s a bit crazy coming back, it’s like I never left,” Jervis said.
“I knew what was expected out of me, I knew a lot of the guys for the most part. The guys that were here previously set the tone from the day we were in the gym… Everyone was on the same page and there were no real surprises. We knew what they wanted out of us and we all rolled into our roles. It’s been a really easy transition.”
Jervis returns to Perth with greater wisdom than he had when he left. His two challenging seasons in Brisbane highlighted the importance of a team with shared goals, a lesson he hopes to impart to his new teammates.
“Obviously winning the championships with Perth and then going to Brisbane and finishing last two years in row, it was tough, it was a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s all about chemistry, guys getting along, guys putting the work in and moving in the same direction. It seems to be that way with the ‘Cats at the moment. Everyone from day one, we’ve all got the same goal and are all moving in that same direction.”
Having been a member of Perth’s 2014 and 2016 championships, Jervis knows the high expectations that come with wearing the red and black. The goal is simple: a top-four finish.
It’s a task Jervis knows is easier said than done.
“That’s obviously where we want to be and I expect us to be up there – the fans and organisation expect us to be up there, doing the right things and winning these games. At the same time it’s going be an extremely tough competition all the way through, there are no let-off games and no slouching.”
Coach Gleeson is quietly confident in his players’ ability to grit their teeth and to push forward through adversity.
“We will hang our hats on our work ethic. We’ve recruited guys that roll up their sleeves [and] go at it as soon as they cross the white line. That’s been a trademark for years and years at the Wildcats and they fit into that rich history of a workman-like mentality.
“It’s a great culture to be around, to have eleven guys that are hard workers and play unselfishly. Hopefully we will feed off each other and have another good season.”
The Perth Wildcats’ season begins on October 11, opening night, in a match against last season’s runner up, the Adelaide 36ers.