A year on and Brian Goorjian is in a much better place. The Illawarra Hawks are a completely different operation. Back from China, out of Melbourne lockdown and signed on as coach, last season was all about how much they could achieve in a short space of time, in a COVID-restricted world. A new staff, new roster, new regime. Enduring weeks upon weeks away from home in player bubbles. Oh and, of course, getting the bloody name back. They've had the chance to exhale in the off-season knowing whatever lessons they learned on their way to making the semi-finals would only help their cause for a second-ever Hawks title in 2021-2022. Read more: Border closures force NBL to shuffle season's fixtures Goorjian powered on, leading Australia to a breakthrough medal at the Tokyo Olympics, adding to the lustre of being the greatest basketball coach this country has seen. So now the GOAT reloads, backed by owners who have proven their worth by building a title-contending roster, featuring among others rising star Duop Reath, who was part of Goorjian's Boomers squad. "I just know after being away 12 years (from the NBL), I had a vision of this," Goorjian said. "I wouldn't have taken this job without believing in the management that I thought was capable of doing what we're talking about. Not many things attract me in basketball, I could have retired. ''But the second part of it was the community and having this place bubbling along like it used to." As the impasse continued between the club, community and NBL about reaching membership targets, Goorjian launched a passionate plea in a press conference in January which will go down in Hawks folklore. Did Goorjian have a sense of the gravity of his words at the time? "We were trying to build a club from scratch in a COVID environment and I was pissed off the whole period of time," Goorjian said. Read more: Tigers quintet earn Illawarra Academy of Sport selection "It made absolutely no sense to me, so as soon as I had the chance to run my mouth, I did it. "And you see what it means to the community, you walk down the street and people are supportive and the name is where it starts." President Dorry Kordahi sealed the Illawarra name's return, after a deal with major sponsor Pepper Money to buy 1500 memberships and reach the NBL-imposed target, finalised in time for their first home game in February. Aside from being a six-times NBL championship coach, Goorjian's words have added weight when he reiterates a statement he has made previously: "Without the name, even if we had won the championship and were just The Hawks, it wouldn't have been complete". The sense of community and his attachment to the Illawarra is also reinforced when he talks about the pre-season build-up, before the NBL Blitz starts with the Hawks' first game against South East Melbourne on Monday night. "It has gone up a level as far as the day-to-day base from last year, from a training and conditioning standpoint," he said. "I thought it was one of the best pre-seasons I've been involved with in terms of facilities and using the natural Wollongong area. Read more: Rains puts dampener on Kembla Grange Summer Provincial Series heat "We've been training up on the (Illawarra's) northern beaches and the lifesaving clubs and have done a lot of work, compared to Melbourne and Sydney it just makes things so easy." Illawarra will play two Blitz home games - against New Zealand on November 25 and arch-enemy the Sydney Kings on November 27. Even for a pre-season game, there'll be added spice. "When they come down here and and bring their gun, we're going to have a cannon waiting for them," Goorjian told the NBL's The Huddle podcast, after Kings owner Paul Smith referred to the Hawks as "scumbags" and "idiots" in a radio interview. Whooshka! You know nature is healing in a post-COVID world when little brother down in Wollongong is eyeballing their old rivals. And with a squad featuring Reath, Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup and the Froling brothers (Harry and Sam), there's every reason to believe they can back the trash talk up with actions. We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.