ILLAWARRA captain Kevin White hopes the Hawks faithful have long memories when new Sydney Kings import Jerome Randle makes his return to the WEC on Thursday.
Few players have raised the ire of Illawarra fans in recent seasons quite as much as the former Adelaide star, who is yet to taste victory in Wollongong in five attempts.
White had a happy knack of getting under Randle’s skin in the rivalry between the two sides, prompting the reigning MVP to label the Hawks “dirty” on the eve of last year’s semi-final series.
“I don’t like the way they play basketball, I don’t like anything about none of the guys on the team,” Randle said at the time.
History shows the Hawks had the last laugh, coming from 1-0 down to win the series in three games, and White said Randle’s comments played no small role in the turnaround.
“Jerome and I have had our run-ins on the court and obviously the comments he made last year made it a little bit more personal,” White said.
“I think we needed a bit of extra motivation and those comments sparked something in our group and probably the Illawarra.
“We’re known to be an underdog and to be a town and a community that gets after it and plays hard. It’s just the way we play and I’d never call it dirty.
“We believed we deserved to be there as the team we were, not because we were dirty or anything like that. We believed we’d earned the right to be there and I think it showed in the end.”
While it’s unlikely that Hawks fans will roll out the welcome mat, White said he welcomed the return of one of the biggest stars to grace the NBL in recent seasons.
“Jerome’s one of those guys any league is lucky to have,” White said.
“That’s been the beauty of playing against Jerome the last couple of years, his ability to dominate the ball and dominate a contest. He’s a competitor.
“It’s a battle that Norto [Mitch Norton] and I take personally but we enjoy it because, at the end of the day, he’s probably the best guard that’s played in the league the last few years.
“To have him back in the NBL is good for the league, it’s good for Sydney and we’re looking forward to [Thursday] night.”
While the WEC has not been a happy hunting ground for Randle, it has been for Kings coach Andrew Gaze who is 5-2 against Hawks coach Rob Beveridge and yet to taste defeat in Wollongong in three visits.
The Kings only two victories this season have both come against the Hawks, the most recent coming in an overtime thriller at the Sandpit in round four. White said it’s vital his side turns the tide on Thursday.
“We haven’t beaten them at home, and that’s a massive thing” White said.
“For us right now it’s not necessarily about the Kings, it’s not necessarily about Jerome it’s about continuing our momentum and playing the way we’ve been playing.
“If we can build on what we’ve done the last couple of games, hopefully we can keep this thing rolling.”