By Jackson Russell
Wallan Panthers are ready to get the 2020 Big V season underway but will have to wait a while after the season’s start was postponed.
After a raft of changes, the men’s roster looks very little like the side that finished fifth and was eliminated in the first round of the division two finals last season.
The women’s team is back to 100 per cent with three important players returning after injuries in 2019.
After leading the club to its first senior premiership, Country Basketball League men’s coach Tim Annett takes the helm of the Big V team for the first time.
The Panthers have added import Sharif Black from NCAA Division II school Bemidji State, Hamish Abbott from Division II NAIA school Lourdes University, Vito Carbone from Coburg and most recently, Dominic Bruno from Whittlesea, while just four players return – including Leigh Saffin, who averaged 19 points per game last season.
Annett said Black would add a lot to the team at both ends of the floor.
“Not just scoring but his rebounding is exceptional for his size and he’s exceptionally quick,” he said.
“[Abbott] was actually All-American for defence in his conference so he’s more of a defensive player.”
While the Panthers are undersized, Annett plans to use it to their advantage and play a Houston Rockets-style five-out small ball on offence.
“Hopefully that’s what we can model our game on a little bit with less isolation and more ball movement,” Annett said.
“The thing for us is going to be defensively, just getting stops, getting rebounds and getting out in the open floor and running.”
While the focus early on will be building team chemistry, Annett is hopeful for another finals appearance.
“I think the second half of the season is when we’ll play our best and hopefully really be able to build on something and have a good run going into the finals,” he said.
Wallan’s women’s team is back after finishing 9-9 and narrowly missing the finals in an injury-riddled 2019.
Carey Paps has moved over to coach the women after coaching the men, filling the role left by Warren Taylor.
Sarah Scott, Rebecca Romeo and Carly Simons all return for the Panthers, along with most of 2019’s list.
Scott’s return gives the Panthers a boost as she played just two games last season before her season was ended by injury.
Paps said he won’t depart much from Taylor’s game plan.
“We’ll probably run more, I like to run. We’ll get up the floor and play tough defence,” he said.
“We’ve worked on our fitness and done a lot of up and downs so hopefully we run teams off the court.”
After finishing 2019 with a .500 record but missing the finals by just a game, Paps said finals was the first goal for the Panthers’ women.
“I think we definitely need to make finals if we want to improve from last year’s team that only missed by one game. Our aim is to make the finals and take it from there,” he said.
“I think we can win the division. I think we’ve got the personnel and the hunger, they really want it which is great.”