In 2001, Adelaide 36ers Brett Maher was flying as the captain of both his club and as the Australian Boomers as well.
20 years later, Maher reflects on what was a golden period for the Adelaide club.
“We had some really good teams throughout those, late 90s, and early turn of the century,” Maher said on the Press Box Podcast last week.
“That 2001-2002 premiership was really special, it was mentioned how we lost to Wollongong, one of the most devastating wins of all time, Damien Lowrie hit three free-throws that bounced around a million times.
“But it fired us up.”
Maher talked about how the team changed during the off-season before the new NBL season.
“We lost a few key players,” he said.
“But we brought in Willy Farley, and Matt Garrison about halfway through that season.
“We had a really good mix, of some young guys, some role players and some scorers, and it just clicked at the right time.
“It was good.”
At this peak period, the 36ers were coached by Phil Smyth, whom Maher had a long association with, as they also played alongside each other.
Maher talked about their relationship over the journey.
“I was talking about it with someone only today,” he said.
“How, I’d come in in 1992, Phil come back in 93.
“Don Monson was the coach there, and he preferred older guys.
“Then we had Mike Dunlap come in, and he preferred all the younger guys.
Maher spoke about how this changed the dynamic of the team, him getting minutes over Smyth.
“It was a massive move at the time, because Phil was still starting for Australia at the time,” he said.
“But Dunlap put me in front of Phil and started me.”
Despite this, the two shared a great relationship.
“I always got on exceptionally well with Phil as a player, and growing up he was one of my idols,” he said.
“To be able to play with him, alongside him, and to have him as a mentor as a player, and then as a coach was pretty good.”
As a coach, Maher had high praise for Smyth.
“His strength as a coach, obviously he knew the game, knew how it was played,” he said.
“But the way he got the best out of everyone, he was a very encouraging coach, and believed in positive reinforcement.
“I think that got a lot out of some players who may not have achieved what they did with him without that sort of style.”
As high as they reached during this period, the golden years soon ended, and the 36ers have not won a title since 2002.
Maher talked about this long drought.
“You kind of get sick of the Wildcats winning,” he said.
“New Zealand were winning a lot there as well, so it’d be nice to share it around and get Adelaide back.
“I don’t think it’ll be this year, but hopefully in the next couple, we can put together a team.
“I mean we’ve been in the grand final a couple of times since then but not been able to get over them.
Maher spoke about what it’s like for a past player to see his team fall at the final hurdle on those occasions.
“It hurts me to see Perth winning all the time,” he said.
“We used to have such a good rivalry and they’ve just surpassed everyone now.
“It hurts when you go to a game and say, ‘I don’t think we have the team this year to do it.’
“This year, if everyone was healthy, it’s a pretty good lineup, but losing someone like Isaac Humphries for the length of time we have this season, I think is gonna hurt.”
The new coach of the 36ers, Connor Henry, has attracted criticism lately, but Maher is more pragmatic when discussing his stint in the top job so far.
“It’s a hard one to answer, when I haven’t been down for a training session,” he said.
“Without seeing it on a day-to-day basis it’s really hard to know what they’re like, how they mix with those players in that sort of environment.
“From what I’ve seen at games I’d definitely still give him a pass mark, I think he’s done reasonably well, to deal with some of the injuries as well.
“I haven’t seen enough, I have caught up with him, a couple times, and he seems like a cracking bloke, which I think is a really good start.
“But I haven’t seen enough yet, I would like to see a bit more.”
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