"I don't care who you are, you could be Phil Jackson, no one's going to survive that many injuries."
That was Tasmania coach Scott Roth after the finals-bound JackJumpers snuck past a severely depleted Illawarra by three points in Wollongong late last season.
Roth was part of a chorus of Jacob Jackomas' peers virtually falling over themselves to praise a rookie head coach dealt a maliciously cruel hand in his first season.
However, his looming second season in charge begs an entirely different question: how would Phil Jackson do with this version of the Illawarra Hawks?
Of course it's highly rhetorical. No one is asking him to be Phil Jackson or, for that matter, his predecessor Brian Goorjian. The Hawks front office isn't asking for him to be anyone other than Jacob Jackomas.
Precisely who that is in the coaching sense remains a mystery for those outside Hawks camp. How do you judge a guy who lost four imports to season-ending injuries - the most crucial after just one game?
The answer is you can't, just like you can't read too much into a franchise-low 3-25 win-loss ledger. The truth is, we don't really know enough to pass judgement.
It's not the case for those in the club's inner sanctum. It's seen more than enough.
"Nobody ever wants to go into their first year coaching and have to go through what he had to go through, but Jake's done an unbelievable job," team captain Tyler Harvey said.
"I don't know if any first year head coach has ever had to go through the sort of injuries we had last year, but he's kept us together throughout this whole thing.
"As you can see, guys are right back on board, guys are wanting to come here just because of that culture he's built.
"He just preaches hard work, showing up daily doing everything we can to win games knowing that, if you trust the process, wins will come out of it.
"When the head of the snake is doing that, we have no other choice but to jump on board. I stand for whatever Jake says and, with the team we have this year, we know we're going to produce wins out of that."
The captain-coach bond stretches back to when both arrived four seasons ago, one the star import, the other the long-time assistant to mastercoach Goorjian.
That they'd be on the same page these years on stands to reason, but Jackomas has made a similar impression on those newer to the fold.
Most expected star import Justin Robinson to be on the first plane back to the US when injury ruled him out for the season after just one outing this time last year.
Instead, the 25-year-old stuck around, proving a huge presence in Hawks camp and forging a connection with Jackomas that played no small part in his decision to ink a fresh contract to return before last season was out.
"Even when I went back home [to the US], me and Jake were still talking two-three times a week," Robinson said.
"Coming to the third import choosing process, I had a big key in that and just having conversations about who we wanted. I think our relationship is even better than what it was last year.
"I know how he is as a coach, I know what he wants. We've brought in a little bit of a new offence and I learned that really quickly on the fly from home. Once I got back here we incorporated it quickly.
"Just knowing he trusts me, I trust him, and we're both on the same page to win and try to bring a title back to the Gong."
It largely went on behind closed doors, but that ability to craft relationships through adversity was the major factor in the club's decision to extend Jackomas' contract until the end of 2026.
The call couldn't not raise eyebrows - where else has a franchise-worst result ever resulted in a contract extension - but general manager Mat Campbell says there's method to it.
"I've seen a couple of first year coaches come through the ranks now and the biggest thing for a first year coach is trying to keep the respect of the group," Campbell said.
"Having so much disruption and still being able to keep the group showed he's got a handle on the most important thing about being a coach.
"With 10 games to go [last season] we had an opportunity to replace an import again. We took that to Jacob and he sat with [captains] Tyler and Sam and worked out that they just wanted to go with the group we had and give it a crack.
"We allowed a couple of games grace to see whether we needed to pull the trigger trying to recruit someone else. What we saw was a group of guys that came together and played for each other and, most importantly, played for him.
"It showed me that Jacob knew how to coach and that the group was invested in trying to win even though they were down the bottom of the ladder. For a guy to do that as a first year coach, you know there's potential there."
Potential's one thing, but there's no doubt Jackomas' sophomore season will bring a different kind of scrutiny.
With Robinson returning, the recruitment of experienced NBA big Gary Clark alongside Harvey will put enviable import stocks at his finger tips.
Throw in a Next Star in AJ Johnson, Asian sharp-shooter Hyun-jung Lee, and a broader roster stacked with experienced domestic products, the Hawks will need to do a lot more than merely compete to keep critics at bay.
It's a reality the club is awake to, but Campbell says there'll be no greater pressure than what his coach places on his own shoulders.
"Sometimes it's easy to walk out there when the expectations are low," Campbell said.
"You roll out there, you throw a punch, and if it's close you're OK with that. He was never happy with that, he was never happy with any of those losses last year. He reviewed himself harder than anybody else.
"He could have easily rolled over last season, but he coached every game like it was the finals. The fact that we were able to recruit on the back of such a poor year means the players were watching and liked that commitment.
"Now we get a situation where we've got some talent, we've got most of the Australian content on multi-year deals and three great imports. That's different pressure and he understands that.
"That's the next challenge, but I'm pretty excited about what could happen this year, but also next year and the year after that giving him and the club an opportunity to win a championship."
For his part, Jackomas says having a far bigger arsenal at his disposal this season hasn't seen him deviate from his core philosophies, beliefs that haven't been dented by a horror first-up run.
"It's a head coaching job of a national league team, there's always pressure," Jackomas said.
"I'm not going to be arrogant or naive enough to say that I don't feel it, but I'm not putting any extra pressure on myself just because we seem to be better [roster-wise] this year
"If you start worrying about everything like that you're taking your focus off what's important. If we start to think that, just because we've got a good roster, I think it goes into a bad box.
"Every team is good in this league, we're really good in this league, I'm going to worry about my team and making sure they perform well. Whatever comes of that comes of that."
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