The game plan which has lifted Perth Lynx coach Andy Stewart to a club record number of wins and four State Basketball League titles was originally designed to teach teenagers to play a variety of positions.
Stewart broke a 22-year-old record for the most wins by a WA-based WNBL team’s coach when the Lynx beat Townsville last weekend. Guy Molloy set the previous record with 52 wins from 1993 to 1996.
Murray Treseder enjoyed similar success during his tenure before the club slumped to 15 years of struggles.
Stewart’s arrival for the 2015-16 season came after the Perth Wildcats bought the team’s licence and gave the players unprecedented support.
The Lynx have won more regular-season games under Stewart’s coaching than any other WNBL club and sit on top of the ladder with a 5-1 record.
They can put a gap between themselves and the rest of the league if they beat second-placed Canberra today.
Stewart refuses to take credit for the success — pointing out that nothing could be achieved without assistant coach Ryan Petrik, strength and conditioning coach Darrell Morgan and the Wildcats’ resources.
But with a 72 per cent winning tally over 400 games in charge of the SBL’s Lakeside Lightning before joining the Lynx, his style of play has stood the test of time.
The high-tempo game plan, which doesn’t rely on height, has been the feature of his teams since he started coaching teenagers.
“I made it up as a junior offence,” Stewart explained.
“What I didn’t like was six-foot 14-year-olds coming in, being put in the post to play as a big kid and never getting the opportunity to play outside. I didn’t want to lock kids into the post when I knew they were only going to be six foot tall.
“I wanted to create an offence that had the freedom for bigs to play on the outside and guards to play on the inside. I then adapted it to senior basketball at the Lakeside Lightning.
“It worked at a semi-pro men’s level, so I thought ‘why can’t this work at the professional women’s level?’”
That system led Perth to the grand final in his first season, 14 consecutive wins plus the minor premiership last season and Stewart being named WNBL Coach of the Year twice.
The success has come despite significant changes to the team each year.
Only three of the 2016-17 squad returned last season and that figure has dropped to just two this campaign as many players accepted lucrative offers to play overseas.
Co-captain Toni Farnworth has played under Stewart since he arrived at Perth and said he had a clear vision for success.
“He’s very smart,” Farnworth explained.
“He has a style that he likes to play and then he gets a group that can play it. He inspires a lot of confidence and that’s why we’ve had success and why a lot of the players who have come to the Lynx have improved.
“He gets the right people in and then lets them do what they do well.
“He requires a high level of professionalism but if you do the right thing, you can just go out and play. That is really refreshing.”
Stewart loves sport. He played under-14s football for Swan Districts as a 12-year-old before moving to Malaysia with his family for three years.
He played rugby, baseball, softball, badminton and golf but basketball became his passion. A junior coaching opportunity in 1993 led to him running the Lakeside Recreation Centre before getting his break with the Lightning.
He later worked as an assistant coach at the Perth Wildcats and stepped in for Trevor Gleeson for one game during a family emergency. The Wildcats won that match.
Stewart is now a Basketball WA board member, SBL Commissioner and constantly develops players alongside Jess Van Schie through their company, Coaching Hoops.
His ability to teach players, regardless of their age or ability is one of Stewart’s biggest strengths and Lynx training regularly stops as he passes on specific lessons.
“He’s definitely a teaching coach,” co-captain, and Australian Opal, Katie Ebzery said. “He wants people to know exactly why we’re doing things.
“I really like that because I’m a player who needs to know why we’re going to be switching or why we’re doing this play on offence.
“It’s great for developing players because it improves their basketball IQ.
“But it’s also great for older players who like to understand the ins and outs of what he’s thinking.”