EVEN after he'd officially announced his retirement, Tim Coenraad had a faint inkling it wasn't over.
Call it wishful thinking, but it's not that difficult to fathom given the 36-year-old has played his entire career for a club that's had more farewells than John Farnham. Little wonder when people told him it was all over last year, he didn't necessarily believe it.
Illawarra's unbroken 43 years in the National Basketball League is not so much a story as an epilogue. Coenraad's first season in 2009-10 was with what was effectively an exhumed franchise following the Save the Hawks campaign.
It was dead, buried and cremated several more times as he built a 310-game legacy with the club. It puts him third all-time in appearances for the Hawks but, as he joked in announcing his retirement in November last year, he holds the record for voluntary administrations.
He said the right things at that presser; the things most retiring athletes say to convince themselves more than anyone else. Now in the midst of one of the more remarkable NBL playoff runs, he's a little bit more frank about it.
Was he really ready to hang them up?
"No, I wasn't," Coenraad says.
"It's one of those things where the roster started to take shape and people kept getting signed. I hadn't heard anything for a while, then all the spots were taken.
"I had to make a decision whether to go and search for another club or call it quits. The retirement and the press conference all came because the NBL and the club wanted to give me a proper send-off.
''It was good timing with the community position becoming available to stay involved with the club but, at the end of the day, I didn't think I was done. There's a lot of players who think that, but I still felt I had something to give.
"When things fell the way they did and Brian (Goorjian) gave me that chance, I was in from the moment he asked."
It took a host of unlikely circumstances. Highly-touted Deng Adel's utterly unexpected struggles in the NBL was one. Cam Bairstow's unfortunate, yet slightly less surprising, season-ending injury was another.
Still, it's one thing to get the call, it's another thing altogether to be in a physical state to answer it. It goes a long way to explaining his longevity but, if ever there was a time to let himself go a bit, it was in retirement, right?
"No, that's just the way I live my life," he says.
"You only get one body and you want it to be in as good a nick as you can. It's second nature for me, so I was prepared and ready to go. 'Did I think it was a possibility?' - not really.
"There were a lot of guys into the roster; Grida was on his way back from injury, so there was an extra body. If we're talking pure basketball, Cam Bairstow adds a lot to the team and contributes in ways I can't. It's why he's a former NBA player.
"Unfortunately things fell the way they did but the opportunity came up for me and I was happy to take it because I felt like I wasn't done."
Given his last game in Wollongong was rained out - yes rained out - due to a leaky roof at the WEC last year, a return to the finals is a far more fitting finish to his career.
It has also offered up the chance to snap the Perth hoodoo that's plagued his career, having been eliminated by the Wildcats in all his previous five trips to playoffs - including two grand finals.
In 300-plus games, Thursday's stunning come-from-behind win in Perth was just the second victory he has enjoyed over the Cats in the west. The chance to fully bury the hoodoo on Saturday in Wollongong is as unexpected as anything else.
"Funnily enough every time I've been to the playoffs in my career it's been Perth that's knocked me out, so I'd like to put that to bed this time," he said.
"If there's any year I believe we can get it done it's this year. I understand that this stuff doesn't come around very often, but to be retired and out of the game and then be given this great chance ... it's hard to put into words how much it means to me to be in this position."
It's something only a special few can understand. In a jubilant away locker room at RAC Arena on Thursday night, AJ Ogilvy was perhaps the only other guy who got it.
With Coenraad, he's the only player, coach or staff member to have been part of the club's precious two wins in the west in 36 outings, while two trips to playoffs also ended at the hands of the Cats.
Unwanted by the club pre-season, Ogilvy's rise from an injury-replacement player to banishing the Perth curse - as captain no less - is a second coming every bit as remarkable as Coenraad's; a fact not lost on the veteran big man.
"It's been an ongoing [appreciation] really, not just since making the finals" Ogilvy said.
"Being the last person on the roster, every time something's happened you think 'this long ago I didn't have a job, this long ago I thought I'd be playing somewhere else'. It's very wild when you look at it that way.
"It got to the point where the Hawks roster was full. I told my friends I was going overseas, the roster's done. I'd kind of resigned myself to that.
"I had negotiations with clubs outside of Australia and was down the road with a few of them. I spoke to a couple of the [Hawks] coaches and they said 'come in and work out with us until you know what's happening'.
"I kind of took that as 'come in and work out with us until you get another job. Then I talked to Goorj and got that conversation going and things changed pretty quickly."
It's fitting in more ways than one. A three-time All-NBL First Team centre, Ogilvy was the premier big man in the league when he committed to a three-year deal with the Hawks at the end of his first season in Wollongong.
He's the first to admit the subsequent years were tough on the personal and club front. But ending that tenure on a five-win season and ownership collapse that saw the franchise razed to the ground would have been bitter.
"It would've been a tough pill to swallow the way last season ended," Ogilvy said.
"Starting my career so well with the Hawks was exciting and everything was on the up and up and then we had a couple of very tough years personally and with the club. To stick it out and see the club heading in a positive direction again with the new ownership and Goorj at the helm is exciting.
"I've gone from being one of the younger guys signing on long-term to try and help build the club to now one of the older guys, until recently the oldest guy, trying to steer it. A lot's changed but it's great to see the positive vibes again."
They've rewritten the script but, as is the case in any decent yarn, the ending is always the trickiest.
With the golden opportunity Saturday presents to sweep the Wildcats in Wollongong, comes pressure. Ogilvy has reminded some teammates that such chances are far from typical.
"All the guys on the roster last year appreciate not every season is as good as this one," Ogilvy said.
"I've spoken to guys about how important it is to take these opportunities because it doesn't happen every year and it's been a long time between drinks. It's not going to last forever and, it's that stupid cliche, you want to play every game like it's your last."
Coenraad is singing from the same sheet. He has 200-odd games to go to catch Glen Saville (#1) and Mat Campbell (#2) on the Hawks all-time list but surely, by now, you wouldn't write him off completely.
"You never know when it's going to be your last season," Coenraad said.
"There's a good chance this is it. If it is, it's the perfect way to leave it if we can really make it happen."
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