Double Dribble: Cash-strapped Wollongong Hawks defying the odds in NBL finals hunt

It’s amazing the Wollongong Hawks are in the NBL finals equation after they were 6-13 and on the bottom rung of the ladder a month ago.
Shanghai night field

It would be a near miracle if they can win four or perhaps all of their remaining games to sneak into the playoffs.

But for the poor old Hawks, it’s a miracle the NBL’s only surviving foundation club is still in existence.

Throughout the club’s life it has always lived on the smell of an oily rag.

For a relatively short time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when they were owned by a wealthy local businessman, the Hawks were financially sound and it’s no coincidence the team enjoyed its golden era during that time, highlighted by its only championship win – the victory over Townsville for the 2001 title.

In recent years, the Hawks have been close to becoming chicken feed a few times, particularly in 2009 before another local businessman came to the rescue at the last minute with a financial guarantee which got the survival plan championed by club legend Mat Campbell over the line.

As we’ve seen many times in the NBL, rich benefactors are not always as reliable as they appear to be and the Hawks, despite reverting to a community-owned model, are again feeling the financial strain.

Crowds went down following the team’s mid-season slump and the fans haven’t returned despite the four-game winning streak.

Management decided to cut ticket prices for last Friday’s win over the Breakers and the attendance grew to 2444, which is a positive sign but still nowhere near enough to put some much-needed funds in the Hawks’ kitty.

The Hawks have again offered discounted seats for this Friday’s crucial clash with second-placed Adelaide.

The diehard fans will always turn up but there’s no excuse for the fickle fair-weather supporters not to get behind a team which is winning.

Full disclosure here: as a card-carrying member of the Hawks, my desire to see the club survive yet another economic full-court press is not simply a journalistic observation.

But the NBL should be doing as much as possible to ensure its traditional markets are secured before traipsing off into new areas which are unproven or have had one or sometimes more previous incarnations in the league.

With a roster costing a lot less than their playoff rivals, Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod has yet again unearthed diamonds from what many observers in the pre-season predicted would be a pile of gravel.

McLeod’s astute reputation for scouting imports is second to none in the NBL. In recent years he has brought Gary Ervin, Tywain McKee and Lance Hurdle to Australia and they all excelled.

The Hawks had another blue-chip import on their books in the pre-season in the form of Durrell Summers but he was the polar opposite of his namesake, Daryl Somers – he was only in the spotlight briefly and left us wanting more. Summers’ agent tried to jack up his asking price after dominating in his only two trial appearances.

Perhaps McLeod’s best recruit is Wollongong’s current point guard, Rotnei Clarke.

Short for a guard these days and not particularly athletic, Clarke has shown you cannot judge a basketballer by their cover with his lights-out shooting displays and superb play-making skills.

It would not be a big surprise if he pips Perth’s star forward, James Ennis, and Melbourne’s prolific scorer, Chris Goulding, for MVP honours.

If the fifth-placed Hawks can upset the Sixers on Friday night, they face lower-ranked teams Cairns (in Wollongong) and Townsville (away), then what could be a season-defining home game against the Kings  before finishing with a dreaded trip to Perth.

At 10-13, they are only a rough chance to reel in either Sydney (11-11) or Melbourne (12-11) but if history is any guide, the Wollongong Hawks are adept at overcoming the odds.

Taking it to the poll … 

Last week’s NBA poll resulted in a big thumbs-down for the new Slam-Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend with 89% voting for the old system instead of the new freestyle round.

And in the NBL, it appears public opinion is split on the Perth-Adelaide melee with only a slight majority of 54% saying it was a bad look for the league.

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