He may have retired from NBL basketball at the end of last season, but Shawn Redhage has added another chapter to what was already a storied and decorated career, by leading the Perth Redbacks to a championship in WA’s State Basketball League.
After finishing the season in fourth place with a 16-10 record, the Redbacks got their full squad together and clicked at the perfect time, sweeping Stephen Black’s Willetton Tigers 2-0 in the semi-finals last weekend, before defeating powerhouse club the Joondalup Wolves 103-70 in a blowout Grand Final at Bendat Basketball Centre last night.
The victory is the Redbacks first SBL championship since 1997, while the Wolves were playing their third Grand Final in a row – and trying to atone for a loss to the Cockburn Cougars in last years decider.
The crowd at Bendat was packed and buzzing, and there were plenty of notable faces watching on, including former Wildcats legend Andrew Vlahov, and Illawarra Hawks coach Rob Beveridge – just to name a few.
The Redbacks opened the scoring off a strong drive to the hoop from longtime captain Joel Wagner, and quickly built a lead they would never surrender.
Perth brought a level of defensive energy, hustle and all-round class the Wolves just couldn’t match, and used a dominant run in the third quarter to blow the game open.
After averaging 26.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game throughout the season, Redhage was excellent again in the final, putting up 20 points, six rebounds and six assists, while import big-man Lee Roberts took out MVP honours for his 28 points and 17 rebound haul.
Aussie Hoopla spoke with Redhage after the game, and got the four-time NBL championship winners thoughts on what’s it like to add an SBL championship to his list of achievements.
“It’s always a great feeling.” Redhage said. “I guess it makes it ever sweeter with this club. It’s been 20 years since we’ve been able to achieve that championship, and to come here and see the amount of sacrifice from the guys, especially a guy like Joel Wagner who has been part of this club for so long, to get that championship it means a lot to be part of it.” he said.
Whilst he’s still unsure if he’ll play another round next season, Redhage said he enjoyed his SBL campaign and enjoyed the feeling of being in a competitive environment again.
“I just enjoyed getting out there and playing.” he said. “I felt like I played at a pretty high level, and for me it was being able to just get out there and play, and being able to contribute and help the team win. I love that feeling of competing, and there’s some great players in this league.” Redhage said.
A particularly special moment happened after the game, when the coach of the Redbacks 1997 championship Norm Majors – now an elderly gentleman – came down from the stands and shared a moment with current Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic, who was his starting point guard on that team 20 years ago.
“Really special. There’s no words, there’s just no words.” said Lackovic when asked about it afterwards.
Lackovic, who also played two NBL seasons in ’97 and ’98 backing up Ricky Grace on the Perth Wildcats, was delighted to see his Redbacks group earn the reward for the hard work they’ve put in.
“Full of pride, excitement and somewhat a sense of relief, that we were able to close out something that we committed to at the start of the season.” Lackovic said.
“We’ve just got a tremendous group of men who understood what was required against an exceptional team who have been at the top for so long, and it makes it feel so much more worthy based on who our opponent was and how good they are, and how much respect we have for them as a team,”
“For the boys to be able to follow through and play their best game of the entire season when it mattered most, tells you a lot about this group.” he said.
After so many years between drinks for the Perth Redbacks, their passionate fan base will savour every moment of this one, while Redhage will have a significant chance of adding more silverware to his collection at next weeks SBL awards night.
All images used in this post taken by James O’Donohue Photography