IT’S been a roller-coaster season, but Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge says his side owes it to each other to go out on a winning note.
The Hawks trailed start to finish before going down to New Zealand by 15 in their last home outing on Saturday night, 48 hours after being knocked out of the finals race by Brisbane in overtime.
Beveridge admitted his side was left too flat by that defeat to bounce back against the Breakers, but has implored them to do so on Thursday in what shapes as a possible swansong for at least half the club’s roster.
“I’ve never seen a professional team, ever, where there isn’t change,” he said.
“There’s always going to be change, it’s what happens in professional sport.
“I want us to go over to New Zealand proud, with our heads up high, and really have a crack together for the last time ever.
“It’s going to be the last time this group ever plays together, simple as that. It’s exactly what I spoke to the guys about [post-match].
“That was the whole theme ‘yeah we’re out [of the playoffs], we lost, life sucks’ that type of thing but we’ve got one last game together.”
Of the current roster, Todd Blanchfield and veteran sharpshooter Tim Coenraad will return next season, as will rookies Emmett Naar and Daniel Grida.
Beveridge said the emergence of the latter pair, as well as Marshall Nelson and Nic Pozoglou in the latter part of the season, has been a major silver lining to the club’s 2019 campaign.
“This is about trying to build a team for the future, that’s what I’ve tried to do over the last few years,” Beveridge said.
“That’s why you bring in the Mitch Nortons’ and the Nick Kays’ and those types of players. Unfortunately they moved to bigger and better things but we’re trying to do that with our young group.
“I play them and we do that but what I’m really proud about is the how our veterans and older guys have nurtured them and taught these young guys how to be a professional athlete.
“It’s a balance, it’s a juggling act, do you go with the veterans who can supposedly get it done or do you go with the young enthusiastic puppy dogs?
“It’s been a challenge to try and get that blend, maybe I didn’t do a good enough job of it, but I’m pretty pleased about the young guys in particular.”
The club’s longest-serving player, Coenraad has seen a lot of faces come and go in his 10 seasons in Wollongong and has learned the importance of finishing strongly, even without the playoff carrot dangling.
“The one thing you don’t want to do is go out [poorly], especially after everything you’ve put in over a season,” Coenraad said.
“This has been a long season, it started way back doing pre-season trips, you spend so much time together developing relationships. The last thing you want to do is go out with something negative.
“Obviously playoffs are out of the picture but as men and trying to build character, you really get to see what guys are made of in a situation like this. Do you really want to play for the group? Do you really want to finish on a strong note?
“I like to think that we do, I like to think we want to go out on a high, playing together, playing our style of basketball. For me personally it means a lot because I want to go out on a high note with these guys.”