Last night’s NBL season opener provided Perth fans with a sight they have rarely seen – if ever – this decade.
Two minutes to go, Wildcats holding a seven-point lead, game in the balance, Adelaide with possession from the inbounds pass.
And Damian Martin sitting on the bench.
The six-time Defensive Player of the Year wasn’t injured or in foul trouble. Rather, Trevor Gleeson elected to stick with recruit Mitch Norton, who had helped pace Perth’s late charge, to fit with the coach’s mantra of backing the players who have got things rolling.
The Wildcats closed out the game, and underlined what a luxury it is to be able to seamlessly incorporate a host of new faces into the line-up from the get-go.
There’s not too many other NBL sides who could leave a player of Martin’s calibre on the pine and still live to tell the tale.
There’s also not too many who could absorb just eight minutes of Boomers centre Angus Brandt – working his way back from an ankle injury and was plagued by foul trouble – and eke out a road win over a potential playoff rival.
But the Cats’ depth and ability to regenerate on the fly has always been one of their strongest points, and it’s one of the key reasons why pundits should write them off at their peril this season.
Tom Jervis celebrated his return to the club after two seasons in Brisbane with an impressive display down low, taking advantage of Adelaide’s lack of an interior stopper.
Terrico White worked into his first NBL game as it went along, finding his stroke and rhythm and showing signs he’ll gain the confidence to be even more aggressive in games to come.
Norton showed his patience and ability to read the play with a series of pinpoint passes to cutting teammates, while ensuring there was no defensive let-up with Martin off the court.
And even with Bryce Cotton’s late burst to underline his known class, the best player of all may well have been Nick Kay, who looked like a seasoned Wildcat on club debut.
Kay’s crafty footwork down low, tireless screening up high, and commitment to cleaning the glass gave Perth an added dimension.
There’s plenty of twists and turns to come in a long season. But the first 40 minutes of the Wildcats’ campaign showed their new faces fit well enough to maintain the club’s default status as perennial title contenders.