Ipswich’s home-grown talent to step up in Qld league
WITH Ipswich's premier basketball stadium reopened, the primary focus is looking after the city's most talented youth players.
Ipswich Force is set to host men's and women's games against the Brisbane Capitals on Saturday night, launching the restructured Queensland State League (QSL) series.
With the planned NBL 1 North state league competition on hold for 12 months, the QSL provides a fantastic forum for Ipswich's up and coming players to build their careers.
Force men's coach Chris Riches is excited about the promising roster he has assembled, led by a proud Ipswich sportsman and featuring a number of home-grown players eager to gain higher level experience.
"A lot of them are our existing juniors that we've had at our home base for the last four or five years I've been involved with,'' Riches said.
"We haven't brought in any guys.
"We're just basically seeing this as being an opportunity for our local talent to step up and play a more significant role . . . which is not always the opportunity that you get in NBL 1.''
Ipswich captain Jason Ralph was one of the most experienced players in the former Queensland Basketball League competition.
He returns from back surgery last year to guide the side again in his ninth season, still only aged 24.
Riches said the average age of this year's Force side was about 23, highlighting the under-16 and under-18 players who have come up through the Ipswich program.
Among the rising talents to watch are Michael Fleming, Ethan Robinson, Josh Lincoln, Lachlan MacGregor and John Chol..
"It's a situation where that's just part of a pipeline,'' Riches said.
"The guys have just made their way through at each level to improve their skill set and they finally get to a situation where they are ready to be part of a (senior) squad and they can take the pressure that's there.
"We are really working quite hard to try and develop that younger talent to the next generation.
"A lot of the guys have spent, if not their whole, a most significant part of their junior career playing at Ipswich.''
Recent examples of that are the hard-working Mitchell Poulain, a former Woodcrest College student, and ex-Ipswich Grammar School state representative player Kane Bishop.
They have been developing in the Force QBL senior program in recent seasons.
Bishop is likely to become a starter this season.
"It's just asking for more on a consistent basis with him,'' the head coach said.
Riches said the extra time and responsibility Poulain had been given in recent seasons had "really pushed him along''.
Under-21 college recruit Cooper Ward has returned from a stint in Canada.
Joel Rees has come into the Ipswich program "desperate to learn and desperate to improve and has been really been working hard on his game''.
"A lot of other squads are significantly older so we're really looking for those guys that are in that top age of that group to start stepping up to be stronger role players,'' Riches said.
"Then eventually, as they develop and continue to push themselves, they can be guys that are part of our core group.''
Among senior players returning for Ipswich in the QSL are Ryan Jefferies, a former Ipswich junior who has been with the Bullets and other associations.
"He was a part of the NBL 1 squad for this year but when it got cancelled, he never got to play,'' Riches said.
The full Ipswich Force squad is: Jason Ralph, Michael Fleming, Kobe Robinson, Jesse Ghee, Ethan Robinson, Ryan Jefferies, Alec Godinet, Lachlan MacGregor, John Chol, Kane Bishop, Cooper Ward, Joshua Lincoln, Mitchell Poulain, Joel Rees.
Saturday night's games at JBS Stadium will be in front of a sold-out stadium due a limit on tickets under the association's COVID plan.
The women's match is at 6pm before the men's clash at 8pm.
The stadium was earlier closed for three days as a precaution when the recent COVID outbreak in Brisbane and Springfield became a community concern.
Riches is also Ipswich Basketball Association president.
"To the benefit of everyone's peace of mind, we closed the stadium down to try and deal with the immediate effects of the talk and what was happening around the local community,'' he said.
"We are working hard to try and provide the best possible experience while also meeting the requirements of COVID.''
Riches expected senior and junior matches in the Ipswich competition to continue.
"It's business as usual,'' he said. "We're just excited to be back on court.''
Major matches in this year's QSL competition will be livestreamed each weekend.
Ipswich's first livestreamed opportunity will be round three when the Force men and women play South West Metro at Hibiscus Sports Complex.
The livesreaming schedule will start on Saturday with a clash between state league heavyweights, the Logan Thunder, hosting league newcomers RedCity Roar.
Games can be viewed at qt.com.au
QSL LIVE-STREAM SCHEDULE
Round 1 (August 8): Logan Thunder v RedCity Roar, Bendigo Bank Stadium. Women: 6pm. Men: 8pm.
Round 2 (August 15): North Gold Coast Seahawks v Gold Coast Rollers, Runaway Bay Indoor Stadium. Women: 5.30pm. Men: 7.30pm.
August 16: Southern Districts Spartans v Gold Coast Rollers, Rowland Cowan Stadium. Women: 3pm. Men: 5pm.
Round 3 (August 22): South West Metro Pirates v Ipswich Force, Hibiscus Sports Complex. Women: 6pm. Men: 8pm.
Round 4 (August 29): Brisbane Capitals v Northside Wizards, Auchenflower Stadium. Women: 5pm. Men: 7pm.
Round 5 (September 5): RedCity Roar v USC Rip City, Paul Bancroft Centre. Women: 6pm. Men: 8pm.