The planting of those seeds dates back to one of the team’s pre-season training sessions – a session in which the Crocs just talked.
When the talking was over the Townsville players had establish their collective set of values; words they wished to be defined by over the course of the 2015/16 NBL season. Words that turned into action after the opening quarter last night in Perth.
The Crocs were absolutely pounded by the Wildcats in that first period – just as they were by Melbourne United during the week. At one point against Perth they trailed 24-5. It was ugly.
“I called a time-out and we just talked about doing our jobs – to focus in on what we’re trying to achieve and who we are,” head coach Shawn Dennis told Downtown post-game.
“I said ‘We’ve just got to grind away. No matter what happens, we are not going to give in here, we are not going to roll over’.”
And they didn’t. Instead, the Crocs fought back. Pushed back. Talked back.
“They’re a huge team and they wanted to just come in and bully us,” captain Brian Conklin said from the team hotel post-game. “They thought that they were just going to bump into us… try to be the tough guys. We’re not going to back down.”
Conklin paid credit to young Crocs Mitch Young and Corey Maynard for the feistiness they displayed against the bigger, badder ‘Cats – but it was he that led by example. Mauled from pillar to post throughout the game, Conklin never stopped battling. He had little choice, especially after Wednesday’s 30-point loss to Melbourne.
That, as has been well-documented, was an insipid performance where few Townsville players offered any genuine resistance. After the buzzer, Conklin delivered a lengthy address to his teammates before leaving the floor.
— Liam Santamaria (@liam_santa) October 21, 2015
“I just said that we’ve got a responsibility to represent the name that’s on the front of the jersey,” Conklin told Downtown.
“That’s not the team we want to be. That was not who we said we were going to be in our pre-season meetings.”
It was in one of those meetings – organised by Shawn Dennis and his staff – that the Crocs established how they wanted to define themselves this season.
“We set out a series of words that we want to live by,” explained Conklin. “And we didn’t apply any of those in the Melbourne game. I just reminded the guys of that.”
Those words are becoming an important part of this team’s identity. Look closely during halftime of a Crocs game on TV and you’ll see them stuck up around their locker room – even on the road.
“They’re our team values and they go everywhere with us,” Dennis explained. “We’ve got a bunch of team values that we believe represent who we are and we’ve got to see them all the time and believe in them.”
Mitch Norton – the starting point guard who scored 20 points on 4/5 three-point shooting last night – said those values were the key to victory against Perth.
“We spoke about them before the game, we spoke about them after the Melbourne game. We were pretty disappointed in ourselves and the fact that we didn’t stick to our goals and all the words that we’ve got posted all over the locker room,” he said.
“That was probably the most frustrating thing. At that time – after the Melbourne game – it sounded like it was just all words and there was no action. But tonight, after that first quarter, we really did stick to all our values and beliefs and we’re really tough to stop when we do that.”
Norton added that he and his teammates soaked them up during half-time last night.
“They’re posted all around the wall and when we came back in we just said ‘look at those values – that’s what it’s going to come down to in the second half’.”
In the end, last night’s victory was one of the more amazing comebacks you’re ever likely to see on a basketball court. The Crocs were gone for all money late in that opening quarter. People – non-believers all over the country – were switching off.
For those who stuck around – let’s be honest – there was a feeling of shared sorrow for the Crocs and the second-straight ass-kicking they were being served up.
To then fight back and win – at Perth Arena! – was simply remarkable.
“I think [that win] says to teams that we’re going to fight,” said Dennis post-game. “Wednesday (against Melbourne) was an anomaly, to just roll over the way we did. Every other game we’ve fought hard. I think teams will know now that when you play the Crocs they are going to fight hard, they’re not going to just give in.”
Norton didn’t hesitate when asked which of their values most personified the fight-back against Perth.
“Toughness,” he said proudly. “Mental toughness. When things aren’t going your way, coming up with the play to turn it around and get the momentum back in our favour. I think that was massive for us tonight.”
Corey Maynard agreed.
“Toughness, man. Toughness,” he said. “A lion looked us in the eye and we looked right back.”
None more so than Maynard himself…
Conklin – the team’s inspirational leader – offered up a couple more.
“Relentless and discomfort,” Conklin said. “We wanted to make them uncomfortable and I think we did that. When they tried to hit us in the chin and bully us we were relentless, we kept coming and we didn’t back down from them.”
One play in particular – a defensive stance inside the final minute – represented much of Townsville’s heart, grit and desperation.
That play is the kind of thing coaches dream about late at night. Watch Conklin and Jett trap Beal off the hand-off. Watch Kay, Norton and Henry switch, rotate and scramble off the ball. It’s not picture-perfect but the endeavour is absolutely first rate.
Shawn Dennis loved it. It was his favourite possession of the game. That and Leon Henry’s long range dagger the offensive possession prior.
“For [Conklin] to be prepared to throw that out to Leon was massive trust in his teammate,” Dennis said. “If we’re going to compete with the big boys we’ve got have that trust in our teammates. That was the offensive play of the game…. Rather than try and make a hero play Brian made the team play – and it became a hero play.”
The Crocs are now 2-4, still a long way from the pack in terms of contending for the playoffs. But that’s not what it’s about for this team this season. For the Crocs, first and foremost, it’s about being true to themselves; being true to their values.
Putting words into action.