Breaking a 12-year drought with a medal-winning performance at last year’s Helloworld Travel Under-16 Championships, WA Metro are looking to get on the podium again in front of a home crowd when the tournament hits Stirling.
For the first time ever, the Stirling Senators will host the Helloworld Travel Under-16’s in the City of Joondalup, Western Australia from July 8-15 with a new sports arena, Warwick Stadium, catering the tournament.
WA Metro head coach Tyrone Thwaites is looking forward to that home court advantage with the Western Australian basketball community expected to come out in droves to support their team.
“To have the crowd on our side this time around is really exciting,” Thwaites said.
“It played a big part in our Semi-Final last year when Vic Country had the crowd right behind them and I don’t think last year’s group were expecting it.”
WA Metro lost that game by just three points but the team re-grouped the following day to clinch the bronze medal with a 69-55 victory over Qld North.
“The resilience that each athlete and the coaching staff showed to win after a pretty heartbreaking Semi-Final loss just the day before is something that has stuck with me.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of how we responded as a team over that 24-hour period. To play a role in a side that managed to achieve the heights we did was very rewarding.”
Four players finished with double-figure scoring averages for the tournament with Luke Jackson, Derek Igbenoda, Luke Travers and Wani Lodu Swaka Lo Buluk (who has since gone on to earn a scholarship with the Centre of Excellence) leading the way.
However, WA Metro still had to contend with a team that had a 5-1 record as well as Tamuri Wigness, a player that had impressed throughout the competition, in the bronze medal game.
“It was a pretty simple equation for us,” said Thwaites.
“We had put ourselves in a situation to win a medal, now we had to go get it. We’d already beaten Qld North once, so to do it a second time was going to be tough and it took us three and a half quarters to get our game plan right.
“Fortunately we ran away with it in the last few minutes. It was all in our mindset and I was so happy for the boys to accomplish what they set out to achieve.”
An almost entirely new roster will set out to defend WA Metro’s bronze medal this year but Thwaites says the team is more prepared than 2016.
“One of our athletes, Roosevelt Williams, was a reserve last year but the coaching staff are different too and all that is left is the team manager, physiotherapist and myself.
“We’ve picked this group with a much higher emphasis on toughness- something we probably let ourselves down with last year.
“We come in more prepared as both our team manager and myself know how we want the process laid out from start to finish.”
Despite the new-look team, Thwaites believes he has a side capable of once again reaching the podium despite any expectations or pressure that may come with last year’s bronze.
“We come in with a group that know each other well, have a competitive fire about them and are inspired by last year’s group.
“It’s hard to not feel the pressure a little bit but I know we can do it, because we’ve already done it. The talent is there.
“The athletes have made it clear they are playing to win a medal, so as a coaching staff we’ve facilitated discussions to help them understand how they can achieve that.
“And let’s be honest, there would be no greater feeling for an athlete or coach to win a medal at home in front of friends and family.”
The Helloworld Travel Under-16 Championships tips off on Saturday, July 8 with the Grand Finals to be held on July 15.
Stay tuned for the draw and team announcements in the coming weeks.