Ipswich Force taking shape for new season
LIKE many coaches at this time of the year, Chris Riches enjoys camping and fishing.
Having finished another stint teaching at Ipswich State High, he's spending some valuable time with his Coalfalls-based family.
However, before heading to the coast, the recently appointed Ipswich Force men's head coach has focused on signing key players for the 2018 Queensland Basketball League season.
"We're still talking to a lot of players,'' Riches said. "We've made a fair bit of progress.''
With a strong focus on youth development, Riches is thrilled to have signed Ipswich-bred talents like Jason Ralph, Kane Bishop and Mitchell Poulain for next year's expanded state league competition.
With former captain James Legan not returning to Ipswich, Ralph will have added leadership responsibility after his two-year American stint playing college basketball for Valley City State University.
Ralph, 23 next month, also recently became engaged to Ipswich Force women's recruit Georgia Williams.
The former Ipswich Grammar School student has been a proud ambassador for basketball in the city.
"He (Ralph) was a big signing for us,'' Riches said, having taken over the head coaching role in October.
"He's a local guy that has played for Ipswich for a number of years. He'll bring a lot of experience having started so young (in the state league).
"He's going to be our starting point guard and captain this year.''
State junior representative Bishop and hard-working Poulain also typify the players Riches is keen to give extended court time to in the 2018 season.
"With those fringe players last year, we're looking to them to kind of step up and really make a concerted effort . . . and really seize the moment,'' Riches said.
"To build that opportunity they are going to get.''
Bishop and Poulain will have bigger roles working with returning American import Kyle Harvey and a newcomer Garrett Hall.
Harvey has been a reliable contributor to Force teams in recent seasons.
"He's always solid,'' Riches said, having watched him play in his previous assistant coaching role.
"With Kyle, because he's been here for so long, we've developed such a good relationship with him as an association that you know what you get.
"He's very, very coachable, works exceptionally hard and just wants to compete day in, day out, which is something that you really hope for as a coach within a group.
"We're going to have a very young team next year.
"We've had a lot of community focus and that's been a bit push as far as a lot of those junior guys that have moved through the ranks.''
Hall is a shooting guard who has been playing in Darwin. He is expected to arrive in Ipswich next month.
"He's a younger guy for us coming in at 22 so he'll match our group in regards to the average age,'' Riches said.
"That's really where we are looking at with just a couple of older guys in the group.''
With that youth policy in place, Riches thanked former skipper Legan for his contribution to the Force program.
"We wish him the very best in wherever he signs,'' the Force coach said.
"We've decided to move in a slightly different direction.''
After the Christmas break, Riches is planning to fire up Ipswich Force's pre-season at Booval with three weeks of Tuesday night trials from late January.
The new season is scheduled to start in late April.
A bye is expected in the 2018 QBL season due to the entry of the North Gold Coast team, which formerly played in Queensland's second tier SBL competition.
George keeps faith in women's line-up
THE Ipswich Force basketball women are planning to start their state league pre-season in mid-January.
Returning head coach Brad George said next season's squad would be finalised then.
However, after a positive 2017 season where his team made another playoff series, George was keen to build on his youth talent.
Captain Bree Farley is back for her third Women's QBL season in Ipswich colours.
Exciting talents Georgia Williams and Queensland junior captain Rachel Mate will also form a key part of Ipswich's ongoing development at state league level.
Having been a huge supporter of young players, George was also hopeful of retaining other promising teenagers like Cassie Poulain and Kate Head, who have come through the Ipswich Force program.
He expected to confirm his team's imports next month.
The Force women's state league season will start in late April, along with the men.