Illawarra are 12-7 under Justin Tatum (Photo: Illawarra Hawks)

Despite suffering a close defeat at the hands of ladder leaders Melbourne United this afternoon, the Illawarra Hawks still have plenty to look forward to.

Since former coach Jacob Jackomas was sacked mid-season, the team has experienced a remarkable turnaround under interim head coach, Justin Tatum, the father of NBA superstar Jayson. Tatum stepped up from his role as assistant coach in mid-November, with the team sitting in last at 2-7.

Since that moment the Hawks have won 12 of their remaining 19 games to secure a finals position for the first time since the 2016/17 season.

Hawks forward Wani Swaka Lo Buluk said getting the backing of his coach has been the catalyst for change on court.

“He’s just brought out all our confidence. He’s just been great being positive with us,” he said.

“He’s pushed us through training and stuff, so he’s got the best out of us every time and we always say we’d run through a wall for him.”

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United coach Dean Vickerman also paid his plaudits to the way his opposing coach has been able to turn the Hawks team around.

“He’s got them playing hard,” he said.

“I guess for any coach, when you say ‘what did you achieve? Did you get everybody playing with an urgency and a passion?’ He certainly has done that really well.

“We played them here before he (Justin Tatum) was here as well. They were playing some pretty good basketball, [but] they didn’t get across the line. [They’re] probably one of the best in the league after a rebound, after a made basket, in really trying to advance it and be quick.”

Tatum is also in contention for the Lindsay Gaze Trophy as the NBL’s Coach of the Year at the NBL awards tomorrow night.

Illawarra will look to ride this momentum into the play-ins, and will attempt to win their first NBL championship since 2001.

They will take on the Tasmanian JackJumpers in the Seeding Qualifier at MyState Bank Arena, kicking off on 28 February at 5:30pm AEDT.  

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