There was an air of confidence about the Pakenham Warriors before they were sideswiped by Covid-19 lockdowns on the eve of the Big V basketball men’s Division 2 season.
Only days before their season opener, the Warriors were forced to pack up and close the stadium – having undergone a long and gruelling pre-season.
Frustratingly, the Warriors returned for one more training session before a second shutdown.
A season of hope and expectations went by the wayside, leaving Warriors coach Brad Bridgewater and his players flat.
“We put in a pretty big pre-season,” he said.
“I put them through their paces in a college-style program.
“We were set, had our first game coming up that weekend, and then to be shutdown was a bit disheartening.
“We understand what is going on and that it had to be done.”
There will be no shortage of motivation for Pakenham when the group is given the all clear to return for pre-season training.
Having finished in sixth place with a 15-9 record in 2019, the Warriors had plans to give the competition a real shake.
Bridgewater can sense a team that is hungry for a renewed push after being robbed of their chance following the cancelled season.
“That will be a big driving force for the guys,” he said.
“We’ve got a new coach, a new system and we’re just trying to see where we can go.
“It’s definitely unfinished business.”
Bridgewater is keen to keep the Pakenham band together next season.
He has received verbal commitments from most of the squad, who want to come back and help the Warriors’ title push.
“Most of the guys have said they’re happy to return and that’s positive for me,” he said.
“Nothing in concrete yet, but a lot of verbal yes-es.
“(We’re) just waiting to see what happens with everything and when we’re able to get back.
“We’ll put a lot of that stuff in stone once that happens.”
Bridgewater is still on the hunt for one more quality player.
While confident the current roster can make big strides, he wants to increase competition and add to the team’s depth.
“If we can look to filling that this year moving forward then that would be great, but I’m pretty confident in the guys that we have there and the work ethic and dedication they put forth,” he said.
“If they come back with that same dedication, I can’t see us really having issues with the team we have.”
Bridgewater will register as a player, but only take to the court if urgently needed.
At 40, the American wants properly to transition into coaching.
“If I can get away with not having to play, that’d be great,” he said.
“It’s going to work towards me really getting out of the mind of a player and just being a coach.
“I quite enjoyed pre-season [coaching] – it was really good for me to see that side of the game and I was excited about what was to come.”
Bridgewater is delighted with his role at Pakenham.
Whether or not it is a launching pad for a career in coaching remains to be seen, but he believes it will give him the best grounding.
“It’s an amazing opportunity and I’m grateful to Pakenham,” he said.
“It’s ideal because you get to see all sides of coaching.
“It’s not like I’m only the offensive coach, only the defensive coach or I’m only the conditioning coach – you’re literally doing it all.
“I do have an assistant and he’s brilliant, but for the most part there’s no sort of specialised coaching, so you get a taste of it all, which is amazing because you can grow and learn.”
For Bridgewater, it would be a dream to coach in the college system in the US, but he knows you have to crawl before you walk in the ultra competitive coaching game.
He is eager to go about it the right way and sees his role with Pakenham as both a mission to bring success to the club, while taking on an apprenticeship in coaching.
“If I can make a career out of coaching, that would be unbelievable,” he said.
“For me, it’s all about growing and getting that experience and trying to get some wins under my belt, so maybe someone will recognise that and take a chance on me.
“In order for me to get back home and to the college system over there, I think what I’m doing now is a good way to get there.
“If I can have this semi-professional experience and have some success, that would be appealing to a team over there and shows what I can bring to the table.”