Teacher's vital role in developing new Force
BASKETBALL: Bringing a new team together is never easy, especially in a cut-throat competition like the Queensland Basketball League.
However, if anyone can blend an enthusiastic group of young players with an experienced core of well-travelled basketballers, it's Chris Riches.
The Ipswich State High School teacher has waited for his opportunity to be head coach of the Ipswich men's team, having served a fine apprenticeship in recent seasons.
What Riches is trying to achieve this season should excite Ipswich fans, starting at Saturday night's first home of the new season.
Preparing to face the might of Cairns at 7pm, the new-look Ipswich squad has been together for 20 training sessions.
The focus has been preparing the talented Ipswich juniors for the state league.
First-time captain Jason Ralph is one of the city's most loyal sportsmen, having coming through the Ipswich Force and Ipswich Grammar School programs. He's played for Force at every opportunity around his two-year college stint in the United States.
Despite being only 23, Ralph has played eight seasons with the senior men's team.
This year, he'll be surrounded by other Ipswich-bred players like Kane Bishop, Mitch Poulain and Alex Godinet.
Former state under 20 player Jarrett Hepehi-Karini is another Ipswich player receiving a chance in his home state league team. He moved to South West to get his start before attracting the attention of the Ipswich coach.
Riches believes such players deserve their chance to represent Ipswich and mix it with the big guys in Queensland basketball.
However, they won't be alone.
Newly-named vice-captain Kyle Harvey is back for his fifth season, having been a respected member of the Force team.
The 196cm American forward lets his actions do the talking on the court.
Harvey will be supported in the experience stakes by new recruits, including another American import Garrett "G” Hall, and Townsville duo Joseph Owens and Joshua Spiers.
Riches has been particularly impressed with the attitude of Hall and Owens, who both want to play important roles in nurturing the next generation.
"Joe is a really good example of that,'' the head coach said.
"We were very fortunate picking up a guy like him. He loves the game, loves being around the guys and has just fitted in so well.
"We're pretty much ready to go, pretty eager right across the board.
"The guys have had enough of the pre-season stuff.''
He said the strategy of trying to put together a young core "was really starting to pay benefits''. "Because we're seeing the guys now start to talk about their team chemistry. There's a really good feeling amongst all the guys.
"They are really looking forward to just getting started, just to compete with the other teams and show what they can do on the court.''
Riches said this season was all about giving more young players extra minutes, especially those coming from development leagues like the SBL.
Having been around state competitions for a number of years, Riches knows Ipswich will endure some testing times.
However, he welcomes the challenge of facing highly touted teams like the Cairns Marlins.
"Cairns have always given us a run purely because they have an NBL program within their town,'' he said.
"They have a very very strong club that feeds all the way from juniors through to their SBL, QBL, development league players that can contribute to the Cairns Taipans.''
Riches is adopting a similar approach. He wants to develop the youth to be competitive and serve their city proud in the state's premier basketball competition.
QBL Saturday at Llewellyn Stadium, Booval: 5pm - Ipswich Force women v Cairns Dolphins.
7pm: Ipswich Force men v Cairns Marlins.