GAME ON: Goorjian throwing fuel on Hawks NBL tip-off fire | Illawarra Mercury

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BRIAN Goorjian calls it pushing buttons, but there are several ways to describe the lengths coaches in professional sport go to motivate players. Comparisons between sport and battle are overwrought but, at its heart, sport for pay is a combative vocation. Success depends on seeing it as such. It’s why ‘siege mentality’, ‘backs to the wall’ and ‘us against them’ are such common sporting idioms. For coaches, it’s not about Churchillian speeches. In fact, they often don’t wash with athletes who are actually out there taking the knocks and spilling sweat. It’s about tapping into something more visceral. To that end, any small sleight, genuine or perceived, can spark a roaring blaze. If such provocation isn’t immediately apparent, the best coaches have a knack of finding it. For example, it hasn’t escaped Goorjian’s attention that the rejigged schedule has been much kinder to the Kings than the Hawks. Both have been away from home since Boxing Day before shifting to Cairns. The initial draw had the Hawks playing the Taipans twice in the same arena on the opening weekend with an eight-day lead-in to their only round-two fixture against Brisbane. It was a desirable outcome, limiting travel, minimising the scout to one team first up, and providing a lengthy recovery period. The way things subsequently flipped, they’re now facing three games in six days, going from Cairns to Brisbane and back twice. The Kings are playing the Taipans in Cairns twice in the opening two rounds. On consecutive Saturdays. It’s infuriating right? Goorjian hopes so. “We’re not stupid, we know we didn’t get the great end of the stick here,” Goorjian said. “We’re here with Sydney and they definitely got the better end of this thing. They get to sit here and train and play, and then wait [seven days] and play. We’ve got fly, come back, fly come back. “Originally it wasn’t scheduled that way. The change was made and the change suits Sydney. We’re aware of that and we feel we’re treated like the lower end of this, Sydney holds higher ground. “We take that and pump it – what do you think these other teams think of us? What does the league think of us? What’s our schedule like compared to Sydney? “We’ve got to win some games, we’ve got to get this program going and we’re starting from the bottom. The team finished last last year and, when you listen to the broadcasters and the media talk about teams in the top four, we’re not part of that. “No one really rates us as a playoff team and I’m certainly playing that hand and every aspect to it I can.” It’s not necessarily a dig at the NBL, though it sounds like it, it’s just a savvy coach looking to turn a tough situation to his side’s advantage. It’s been a mantra ever since they packed up and shipped out to Albury on Boxing Day. Read more: Childhood mates go from Fitzroy asphalt to the big time They’re not prepared to be back in Wollongong until after the month-long NBL Cup in February. Starting the season solely on the road is an uphill climb, but there’s an opportunity to fly down the other side with a string of home games should restrictions ease down the stretch. It’s why the Hawks are opening their campaign with the type of desperation typically reserved for a team fighting for a playoff spot at the back end of a season. “We haven’t been in Wollongong since Christmas Eve and we’re probably not going to get back until March,” Goorjian said. “It’s a schedule I’ve never had before, and one I didn’t anticipate starting the season. But whatever’s dealt and handed to us, we’re going to be ready for. I keep saying as were traveling, we’re lean in mean, you throw your back pack on and you go to the next place. “We’re going to need to win some of these games so that, when we get to the second half of the year and we’re at home, those games matter. You don’t want to be out of this thing before you get to home. “I’m talking about that all the time, one game a time and every game we’re playing for our lives. We’ve got to get a couple of these [road] wins to make the back half of the season count.” Looking to Brisbane, Goorjian feels familiar enough with counterpart Andrej Lemanis’ style of play, but imports Orlando Johnson and Vic Law – the latter tipped to be an MVP candidate – are an unknown factor. “I think Andrej Lemanis has a system of play and they’re highly organised, I think they’re a deep team, the unknown is their imports,” Goorjian said. “As they were last year for their team, [imports] are going to be very important for Brisbane in whether they make the four or not. We had a much better beat on the imports of Cairns because Cairns’ imports are known to us. “These two important really haven’t played much in the preseason and we haven’t seen much of them. That’s one of the disadvantages of being a first-up on the road type of deal, we don’t really know what to make of their imports. We know we’re playing a good team. “We’ve spent more time talking about their system, how we’re going to defend their system. Our offense isn’t going at one person, we’re more about our tempo. We want to play at this tempo and we’re going to have to defend to play at that tempo.” In a major boost, Goorjian will have his full complement of players on deck, with marquee men Deng Adel and Cam Bairstow both overcoming preseason injury hurdles to make tip-off. “They will [play] and we’re really pleased about that,” Goorjian said. “In the preseason one of the issues was [missing] inside presence. We didn’t have a guy in preseason we could roll the ball into and play off. We’ve had Bairstow back training with us now consistently for close to a month and there’s been a tremendous difference. “We can put the ball into him in the block and they have to come down and respect that or he’ll score. He’s a highly, highly intelligent player and experienced so he’s a really, really important piece. “Deng Adel had his first [full] session [Thursday] and got through. He was monitored closely and we’ve given him the tick of approval to play. He’s got a ways to go to get back to where he was in the preseason but he’s definitely going to help us and give us some minutes in this first game, which is something we probably weren’t expecting two weeks ago.”


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