Now in their second season of SEABL competition, the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (CoE) teams are defying their age and inexperience to become a legitimate threat in this year’s competition.
With both sides consisting of a bevy of emerging stars, the CoE men have equalled their win tally from 2014 after just two rounds and bettered their 0-8 road record with a victory in Canberra. Meanwhile, the women have followed up a 9-5 season with an unbeaten start to 2015.
This weekend will see the women hit the road for their first back-to-back while the men head out on a triple-header to visit Mt. Gambier on Friday, Frankston on Saturday and Kilsyth on Sunday.
Men’s Coach Adam Caporn explained how this round poses an exciting test for his side.
“We’re excited about it because it replicates tournament play,” he said. “We will train during the week and do our scouting and film work in the mornings of the games because that’s what you would do in an international tournament.”
The CoE faced a similar task in 2014, but were unable to come away with a win against Bendigo, Sandringham and Nunawading. Caporn feels like his side is bettered prepared this year.
“[Last year] we learned more about the sports science side of things,” he said. “We have a system in place for the guys’ physical preparation, hydration and recovery and we are educating the players because they need to learn it themselves and value it.”
For the women, an interrupted pre-season was not the ideal preparation but it hasn’t seemed to bother the side led by coach Paul Goriss.
“It’s always difficult because like a lot of other SEABL teams, girls come in after their WNBL seasons while the younger members are here since January,” he said.
“We only had two practice sessions together as a full group before our first SEABL game. Since then, with Opals activity and Junior Championships, we haven’t had much practice either. It’s always a juggling act.”
So far this year, the CoE men defeated Canberra in their season debut, fell to N-W Tasmania who were desperate to avoid a second loss in as many days and beat one of the in-form teams of the competition in Albury-Wodonga.
“We certainly have improved [from 2014],” Caporn explained. “The majority of our group is in their second SEABL year and the improvement has come in their preparation, their understanding of the game and their strength and conditioning. It’s a tribute to the SEABL competition that we’ve improved just by playing in it last year.”
Consisting of no players over the age of 19, the CoE’s achievements are impressive. Jock Perry is a 216cm centre averaging 12 points and five rebounds, Tom Fullarton is just 16 years old and recorded 11 points against N-W Tasmania import Monziago Williams while Dejan Valiljevic is top-scoring with 14.7 points per game.
“Vasiljevic had a good SEABL season last year and is playing a key role this year,” Caporn said.
“Jack White has worked very hard and he is reaping the benefits; Perry was out injured in 2014 and has worked very hard to get himself back and ready to compete in a short space of time and Fullarton’s starting role is very exciting.”
Similarly, the women have a number of electrifying prospects and are sending shockwaves through the competition with an average winning margin of 20 points.
Katie-Ray Ebzery sits third in the league for assists while adding 12 points per game. Lauren Scherf (averaging 15 points and nine rebounds) and Elyse Penaluna (19.5 and 8) cut imposing figures under the basket while Penaluna (71%) and Alannah Smith (63%) both sit in the top five for field goal percentage.
“Ebzery’s leadership and competitiveness has definitely helped our group and her ability to change the game with her speed and athleticism really helped us in overtime against Dandenong last week,” Goriss said.
“Penaluna is so poised in how she plays the game and the girls can take a lot out of how she slows the game down while [Ezi] Magbegor has stood up to be an efficient player around the basket in changing shots and rebounding. She has a very bright future at only 15.”
As both sides are ineligible for finals, Caporn and Goriss have different aims for this season.
“Mostly it’s for the players to transfer what we do on a week-to-week basis into an Opals style of play,” Goriss said.
“The games remain a development priority. Internally, we set some objectives in terms of defensive outcomes and we look at players effectiveness but try to stay away from win/loss projections,” Caporn agreed.
However, this does not interfere with Caporn’s desire to win.
“We play together, we play tough and hard and we play a style of game that is passed down from the Boomers. We’re competitive and we want to win as much as anyone.”