EARLIER this week, both Illawarra owner James Spenceley and general manager Kim Welch declined Game On’s request for an interview to discuss the ongoing issue around the benching of forward Cody Ellis.
A solid contributor in the Hawks last two finals campaigns, Ellis’ apparent blacklisting has not escaped the attention of Hawks fans.
He’s seen no on-court action for six straight games and didn’t dress for Thursday’s win over Sydney due to what was reportedly a twisted ankle. True or not, it was fodder for cynics.
There have been informed suggestions that this is a decision made by management – Spenceley, Welch or both – over coach Rob Beveridge’s head.
If this is not the case, as Welch and Spenceley have insisted, why not address the speculation directly? In declining the Mercury’s request for interview, Welch did provide the following statement:
“The owners, coaches and myself meet regularly, we put enormous amounts of effort into evaluating our direction, our spend and both the team performance and player performances.
“After a 0-3 start to the season it was a unanimous decision that we needed to enact some of the contingency plans. Those changes have seen a complete turn around in the performance and we are winning games.
“It’s simply stunning that a vocal minority think any one given person works in isolation in a business.
“Myself, the owners and coaches have a very open and super close working relationship, simply put, everyone at the Hawks works together.”
Apart from not directly addressing the issue, the comments were not subject to any cross-examination.
That’s Welch’s prerogative. We in the media are not entitled to knowledge of the inner workings of an organisation. Hawks fans, however, are entitled to answers to what’s become a growingly pertinent question.
They do, after all, have long memories. It was only a few seasons ago that fan-favourite Dave Gruber copped the cold handshake from Hawks management.
Gruber epitomised what the Hawks club is about, undersized but hard as nails, he gave his all every minute he was on the floor – not to mention being an absolute gentlemen off it.
He deserved a much better exit than he was given. His replacement Luke Neville never gelled, the Hawks finished last.
On his departure at the end of that season, former coach Gordie McLeod stated: “I no longer feel my values and those at the club are in alignment.”
It’s fair to say McLeod knows a thing or two about what Hawks fans value.
It’s also important to note that, while management declined to speak on the matter, it was open slather on Beveridge who, for his part, backed the call.
“We had meetings in the off-season with the owners and management and you thrash your way through lots of things,” he said.
“When you go 0-3, you have those meetings again and it was a case of ‘if nothing changes, we may continue to slide downhill’.
“We made a decision as a [management] group that we were going to go with the 10-man rotation and give extended minutes to the starting group.
“At the end of the day, in this job you have to make some really tough decisions and unfortunately, in this situation, Cody’s the one sitting out.
“He’s been the ultimate professional about it and an incredible teammate. When I do call his name up, and it will happen, he’ll be ready to go.”
Fair comment, but while Welch and Spenceley may insist that no decision in the organisation is made by Beveridge alone, they’re more than willing to let him to face the scrutiny, and the flak, alone.
Beveridge was the the last NBL coach appointed prior to the 2015-16 season and, coming out of voluntary administration, took the Hawks to the semi-finals.
He lost the reigning MVP and still took the club one better a season later. He already has a championship to his name. The thought of a coach of his calibre having to sit through “tactical” meetings with management is enough to make any basketball fan cringe.
He should be free to coach without management interference and, were that currently the case, it’s doubtful that Ellis – who is off-contract this season – would be being blacklisted in this fashion.
In the interests of disclosure, Ellis is sponsored by the Mercury. Anyone familiar with him will know he neither courts or craves attention but he’s handled the situation with absolute class.
We’d all much rather be talking about the Hawks epic comeback wins in their past two games but it’s hard to do while watching a young man, a young husband and father, being denied the fair chance to fight for his livelihood.
It’s a fact of sporting life that careers can be brief and they can end abruptly. At the very least, Ellis deserves the chance to fight for his.