Ipswich's new approach to build stronger Force
PREPARING for his second Queensland Basketball League season as Ipswich's head coach, Chris Riches feels his team is already ahead of schedule.
With a strong focus on Ipswich development and acquiring the right personality traits, Riches is building a highly competitive Force state league combination.
Ipswich's first game of the 2019 QBL season is at home against Mackay on April 28.
Having learnt from just missing the finals last season, Riches and his squad have put energy into their pre-season preparation.
"We approached this season with a different viewpoint to improve upon the foundation that we made last season,'' the Ipswich State High School teacher said.
"We have started a little earlier this season.
"Following on from last season, the guys were really excited about the opportunity of just basically continuing through the off-season.''
After a month break, the squad quickly refocused on the state league challenge ahead.
"We planned out a different route like doing more individual sessions in small groups with the guys,'' Riches said.
"We have been in trials since late January and continue to work harder and harder to be ready for the start of the season.''
The Force men have already had eight trials against sides like QBL opponents, the Spartans, a Brisbane Bullets development squad, under-20 state team and Ipswich's SBL (second tier) side.
"One of the things that we're really focusing on this year is trying to create a stronger link between the QBL and the SBL,'' said Riches, who is also Ipswich Basketball's vice-president.
"Purely because they are all a part of the same pathway. It's about having a pipeline there.''
Fourteen of Ipswich's current 18-strong squad have association ties, highlighting the commitment to continue supporting regional talent.
With more trials planned in coming weeks, Riches was comfortable how his squad was tracking.
"We are about two and a half weeks ahead of where we were last year in terms of those training sessions,'' the coach said.
While nurturing Ipswich players remains a priority, Riches is also pleased to have secured another import, who he believes is a good fit.
Jayden Ferguson, who is good friends and played college basketball with Ipswich captain Jason Ralph in the United States, is among the key signings for the new season. Ferguson replaces last year's recruit Garrett Hall.
Riches said Ferguson's experience and character were important considerations as Ipswich cast a wide net for this year's second import.
"Probably within the QBL, you're probably looking at as much as 50 percent of the imports don't work out because of personality traits,'' he said.
"Not necessarily that they are bad basketball players or anything but they just don't fit (the team structure).''
Before heading to Ipswich, Ferguson spent some time working out with Force's long-time import Kyle Harvey in the US.
"His consistency is a big thing for us,'' Riches said of Ferguson.
"He's a very stable character. He doesn't really get phased by too much.
"He's a pretty even keel on the court. He doesn't get upset by things and just consistently works hard. He's a gym rat.''
Wing Ferguson has been with Force since February, learning his roles and responsibilities.
"Jayden will be a key piece for the Association this season as we strive to reach the playoffs,'' Riches said.
Another player in this year's Force squad is former Ipswich junior Marty Leah.
Leahy has been back since Ipswich's first trial having left the association in the past to broaden his experience.
"Marty has some strong connections to our community as an Ipswich Grammar and Association junior,'' Riches said.
"We are very excited about having Marty return and we see this as an important step in helping us continue with our success.''
Other 2019 season gains include Joel Rees, who has been playing in basketball competitions around Brisbane, earning a shot in the QBL.
"Joel has been working exceptionally hard and continues to improve weekly because of his commitment to reaching new levels in his own development,'' Riches said.
"That demonstrates our commitment to junior development and creating a pipeline from junior teams to the QBL.''
Under-18 basketballer Joshua Lincoln also joins the Ipswich squad as a development prospect.
The newcomers replace last season regulars Hall and Joseph Owens.
"Joe was a great team player and provided a number of benefits to our program both on and off court,'' Riches said.
"He will be sorely missed. He is a quality person.
"Physically Joseph provided us with some much needed size and grit and a number of our players will need step up to fill the physicality of this role for us.''
Riches said Hall played well for Ipswich last year but was not considered for the program this season.
American import Kyle Harvey and last year's recruit Josh Spiers will join the Force squad in coming weeks.
Ipswich's junior development players for the new season are Sam Grayson, David Poppe and Ethan Robinson.
"They are guys that we have sort of identified as being part of that next wave coming through,'' Riches said.
"Bringing those guys in and really keeping them in contact with that pathway.''
As he builds a more polished Force line-up, Riches said it was a huge boost having club stalwart Terry Lindeberg and Brooke Norgrove also involved in the Ipswich program.
"We're getting into the crunch time where we are refining a lot of what we've planning in the pre-season,'' Riches said.
2019 Ipswich Force men's squad: Jason Ralph (captain), Kobe Robinson, Jarrod Schulte, Kyle Harvey (import), Jayden Ferguson (import), Alec Godinet, Lachlan MacGregor, Josh Lincoln, Joshua Spiers, Kane Bishop, Cooper Ward, Mitchell Poulain, James Kuon, Joel Rees, Marty Leahy
Junior Development players: Sam Grayson, David Poppe, Ethan Robinson.