The 2021/22 season couldn’t have gone any better for Garvey’s Tralee Warriors. They completed the league and cup double.
One of their star players Aaron Calixte scooped player of the season honours for his role in their InsureMyVan.ie Super League win, while head coach John Dowling was named coach of the season at the Basketball Ireland annual awards.
Can they reach the same heights this year? We caught up with Dowling to put the questions to him.
- You received the InsureMyVan.ie Super League Coach of the Year last time out, what do you think it was that went right for you personally and for the group last season?
JD: For me personally I had a lot of support within the Warriors organization. The committee worked so hard to ensure the team had everything we needed from the best gear, venue etc. This helped us to attract Aaron Calixte, who was a very high-level player in the USA. Garvey’s also give us huge support, which again goes a long way to be able to run our team as professionally as we can. I also have huge support from Pat Price and Jimmy Diggins who were able to help me out and give advice right along the way and of course my family at home. Ursula my wife gave birth just a couple of hours after the first league game, so it was a busy year in my house but without her support none of it would have happened.
As a group we have some huge internal leaders who are motivated to win and who the coaching staff also rely on hugely during games and practice so the mix of them and the youth coming through from St. Brendan’s and Tralee Magic have a massive part to play.
- Does achieving that success give yourself and the players who experienced that run an extra level of confidence going into the new season, that could take this team to even new heights?
JD: We are very much a group that try to look forward and see every year as a new year. For sure the experience of last year’s run will help us, but we know that there are some tremendous teams out there and we, as the champions, have a huge target on our backs. We are aware that in order to be contenders again, we must put in more work than we did last year and it’s really the players that will determine the effort so time will tell.
- With a double of the InsureMyVan.ie Super League and National Cup under your belts from last season, how is the mood in the camp ahead of the new season?
The mood is great in Tralee and Kerry with basketball at the moment booming here. In our own camp we enjoyed having both trophies in Tralee and enjoyed the time off, but we are hungry and ready to get back to work. This season with 14 teams it’s going to be hectic, but we are looking forward to it.
- Aaron Calixte and Nikola Roso were key components to the team’s success last season, how will you look to replace their influence on the side this season?
They were massive for us on and off the court and we were delighted to be a part of their journey and wish them well with their new teams. I think as a coaching staff in the InsureMyVan.ie Super League in Ireland, you have to adapt to the player that you can bring in. We look to recruit the person and who they are as much as their basketball ability. The guys we have recruited this year are different types of players so as a coaching staff and a team we will have to change our style of play, but the common characteristic is they are good men who want to do well in Tralee on and off the court.
- There’s a huge emphasis on three-point shooting in modern basketball. Have you noticed this creeping into the Irish game? Is it a skill you see improving domestically year to year?
I am more of a traditionalist. I love the inside game. I think in Ireland more players have to get more reps shooting before you can say we are a good 3-point shooting nation. Don’t get me wrong, we might have lead the league in 3-point shooting attempts last year, but right guy, right place, right time would be my philosophy on that.
- There’s a good mix of youth and experience throughout the ranks thanks to the likes of Steven Bowler and Aivaras Uosis, is that something that you’ll look to utilise over the season?
Yes, for sure the feeder clubs Tralee Magic and St. Brendan’s have done a super job at getting these guys ready from a young age. It’s up to us to bring them to the next level. It’s something as a coaching staff we talk about all the time before games. Where can we get these guys meaningful minutes where they can grow? I think last year Steven, James Fernane both started a game and Keelan Crowe went from not playing in the cup final to starting in the league final so we must continue to encourage that type of growth.
- On that note, how pleasing was it to see former Tralee Warriors’ players Rapolas Buivydas and Leeroy Odiahi perform well for the Ireland team at the FIBA U20 European Championship in Georgia?
Firstly, can I just say what a tremendous job Paudie and his staff did at the FIBA European Championship. They took care of the ball and competed at that level and finished that high, narrowly missing out on top-16. It has a lot to do with how they set up those guys for success, so well done to them. For us in Tralee Rapolas captained the team and both him and Leeroy played a huge part, so we are extremely proud and we hope to see them back with the Warriors one day.
- You’ve had an impeccable home record in the last few seasons. What do you put that down to? What is it about this team and the style of play down here that brings the supporters out in such good numbers?
I think the supporters love to see the local guys who were born and living here, along with the young guys, so they really root for them. The committee does a tremendous job on game night of adding to the experience with lights, halftime stuff etc. Our players also go out to other clubs beyond Tralee and do clinics, camps etc so that draws in more and more people. I think all of that added to a style of basketball that’s about the team and sharing the ball keeps people coming back night after night.
- What are the main objectives for the team this season? It will be very difficult but are you aiming to repeat the success of last season, or will it take some time for the new elements of the team to gel?
If we are going to repeat it will take a huge effort from everyone. The league is set up again the same as last year, so our aim is to be in the playoffs and you are three games away from the title. The cup is the cup. Anything can happen so well take it game by game leading into round one, continue to get better and see where that takes us.