Not even early morning “American Idol” sessions from four-month old daughter Jayda can break Rockingham Flames coach Ryan Petrik’s focus this week.
This is because Petrik has taken the Flames men’s side to their first ever SNBL/NBL1 grand final.
After dropping the qualifying final to now grand final opponents the Perry Lakes Hawks, Petrik and his side convincingly took down Mandurah (99-76) and Lakeside (88-72) in back-to-back matches to secure the history-making spot.
Also the head coach of the Perth Lynx in the WNBL, Petrik describes the side as his “passion project.”
The Flames have been an integral part of his life since childhood. He recalls back to being 12 or 13-years-old, and waiting for his father (and club president) to come home from basketball meetings.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Petrik reflects on just how influential the Flames have been in his life from a very early age.
“We’d come home, ‘where’s dad? He’s at a basketball meeting again.’”
It might have been a hard pill to swallow as a growing young adult, just wanting to spend time with his dad. Petrik sees it more altruistically now though, as a father himself.
“Us kids were getting into the sport, so he was trying to get involved as well,” Petrik said.
“He was heavily involved in getting it all started. [The players] were all my idols when I was 12 or 13 years of age, the first import lived at our house for the first seven weeks while his house was getting ready to move into.
“Naturally when you’re 12 or 13 years of age you don’t get a lot of choices on what you’re allowed to do on a Friday or Saturday night, so naturally we were at basketball.
“I remember going on road trips to Geraldton and road trips to Kalgoorlie. I swear I went to Albany one year when there was an Albany team. I certainly got stuck around the program a hell of a lot.
“I was playing socially domestically but I was nowhere near the standards of these guys, and I was never going to make it as a player. The passion to coach these guys became apparent pretty early on.”
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After playing a single game for the club in 2007, he quickly resumed his coaching passion after joining the men’s side as an assistant coach in 2005, at just 24.
He would then take on the mantle as the head coach of the women’s in 2009, a position he held until 2018.
Petrik will take a swathe of big game experience into the match, so the hype and the frenzy of it all doesn’t appear to bother him, at least not outwardly.
He took the club to it’s first ever grand final with the women’s SBL side in 2012, where they were absolutely slammed by the South West Slammers 85-48.
By his own admission, Petrik says he got caught up in the week leading up to the ultimate match.
“I kind of got buried in the week in the lead up and media and everything else, and then came out and got walloped on the weekend.
“Certainly having learnt from past experiences, you need to find a way to enjoy the week but also stay on task.”
Finishing minor premiers in 2014, that growth and learning came to a head as the Flames didn’t drop a single game on the way to a maiden title across either the men’s or women’s programs.
Petrik and his side would then repeat the effort the following season, going back to back and firmly closing the book on a new chapter of Flames history.
Faced with that oh-so-daunting week once again for the first time in six years, Petrik feels more ready than ever.
“We’re trying to steer our guys away from that [hype] as much as possible. You just feel like in that 2012 game, we played the game before we even got to the game, so to speak.
“The beauty with our program, having Ryan Godfrey, Greg Hire, Tom Jervis, especially those two Wildcats boys with seven rings between them, they’re not scared of this stage and they know how the week’s meant to play out.
“Those three guys in particular will lead the whole program through and then we’ll chip in where we need to.”
Flames stoked by the big stage
In his 17th season as a coach at Rockingham in any capacity, Petrik has seen all manners of players come and go across his time.
There’s not many players, however, he speaks higher of than veteran and captain Ryan Godfrey.
“He’s just the most down to earth, humble human being you’ll ever meet,” Petrik said.
“Which is just ultra, ultra rare these days with these – generally – 18, 19, 20-year-olds coming through. They finish playing in the lower levels and they get to NBL1 and it’s like ‘alright, I’m here, I’m ready to play 20 minutes a night.
“Ryan Godfrey just does whatever he’s asked, whenever he’s asked to do it. I need you to guard their best player tonight – done. I need you to do this – done.
“Whatever it is, he doesn’t care, as long as he has a chance to win. He just wants to win. He’s no nonsense, no fuss, no maintenance. It’s all the little things he does that people don’t notice.
“Because he’s so humble and quiet, people don’t notice how good a bloke he is at times. The obvious example, if you watch the replay back from the weekend, Lakeside sub out Jarrad Prue in what might have been his final game, in his 400th game.
“They sub him out with 50 seconds to go, and Ryan Godfrey’s battling some back spasms as the game’s going on. He runs 50 metres from where he is on the court to go and shake Jarrad Prue’s hand before running back to the baseline to get the ball inbound.
“Little things like that, that go unnoticed, he’s just as good of a human being you’ll ever meet.
“There’d be no more fitting first championship captain than Ryan Godfrey if we’re good enough.”
Ask Petrik who the big game players are, and he’ll name you a whole starting five.
Wildcat Tom Jervis has fitted seamlessly back into the team, Atem Bior has grown remarkably from his first game to his last in 2021. Travis Durnin’s ankle injury is a worry of the past, while Justin Beard has added an offensive presence to his game as a three.
Ultimately though, the history of the club’s men’s program doesn’t feel like any any extra pressure to Petrik. Honouring the past is front of mind, but he won’t let it weigh him down.
“They’re all going to lift, that’s pretty obvious. They played their backsides off all weekend,” Petrik assured.
“In all honesty I couldn’t care too much about the whole not having won it before or trying to be the first. The first bit doesn’t really interest me. It’s more that someone wins it.
“The plan wasn’t to make the grand final, the plan was to win the whole thing.
“I don’t care if I’m the coach or if anyone else is the coach, I just want someone in this program to win the thing for all the people that came before them.”
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