In the third straight game during the
NBL championship series, the Melbourne Tigers came back from a double
digit deficit to record victory last night (88-83) and claim the title of
national champions.

While the history books will show the
Tigers won the championship 3-0, it was no walkover. As rookie coach Alan
Westover told SEN radio in Melbourne this morning, his players had to find a way to
win each match after letting their opponents take an early lead.

The history books will also record this as
a Gaze-less victory. This is the first season veteran coach Lindsay and
stalwart player Andrew weren’t on court to help the Tigers across the line. And while the contribution the Gazes made to
the Tigers can never be questioned, it may be the new blood at the club that
got them over the line last night.

Although Westover was Lindsay Gaze’s
understudy for 14 years, his subtle changes to the Tigers’ game might have made
all the difference this year. Have the Tigers been a coaching change away from
the title for the past few years? Impossible to know, but it’s easy to
underplay the impact a new coach has on any sporting team. AFL and rugby teams can
vouch for that.

With veterans Andrew Gaze, Mark Bradtke and Lanard Copeland also
gone, nobody rated the Tigers’ a genuine chance for the title. Finishing the
season a respectable third or fourth on the ladder wouldn’t have lead to raised
eye-brows or calls for a spill of the coaching staff.

On one hand,
maybe that shows people underestimated Westover and the impact of Chris Anstey,
who returned this year from playing in Russia and last night claimed the Larry
Sengstock medal for the most valuable player in the final series. On the other,
maybe it shows “generational change” was due a few seasons ago.

With a new
Melbourne-based team (South Dragons)
to hit the courts next year, not only will the Tigers be defending champions,
they’ll be competing for fans, another challenge that the Tigers will need to
meet with some fresh thinking.

Peter Fray

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