On this day in 2001, your Illawarra Hawks (or Wollongong as we were known then) suffered a 17 point defeat in Game 2 of the NBL Championship Series. It would be their last defeat of the season as they would go on the next day to win Game 3 in a tight contest and secure the clubs first NBL Championship.
After winning Game 1 (104-101) of the series at the WIN Entertainment Centre the Sunday prior, the Hawks travelled to Townsville to face the Crocodiles in front of their parochial crowd at the Swamp. Led by their core group of Rob Rose, Pat Reidy, Andrew Goodwin and Mike Kelly, the Crocodiles took Game 2 with a convincing 114-97 win. This forced a deciding Game 3 to be played the following day in Townsville. Buoyed by strong support back home, and vocal supporters who travelled to watch our team do us proud, the Hawks came out determined not to let this opportunity be wasted.
We were trailing by 1 point at half time, and the Crocodiles were able to extend their lead going into the last quarter to 3 points. But as was the case all season, our team were prepared to battle and being on the road was never going to deter them. With the pride of the region plus the memory of Team Manager Dave Leske, who unfortunately passed during the season, our Hawks put in a determined 4th quarter display to come away with a 97-94 win. Securing our first ever NBL Championship, and becoming the first team from NSW to win in the National Basketball League.
While Glen Saville took away the Larry Sengstock medal for Grand Final Series MVP, it was a great team performance which included four players finishing with a Double-Double for the game. Sav finished game 3 with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals including the final steal in the last seconds to deny Rob Rose of getting a last ditch 3 point shot off. Charles Thomas who led our scorers for the game with 23 points, also recorded 10 rebounds and 5 assists, sealed the game in the dying seconds at the free throw line handing the club the historic win. Melvin Thomas (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Axel Dench (15 points, 11 rebounds) were both huge on the offensive glass pulling down 6 offensive rebounds each.
This was arguably our greatest team to wear our uniform. The way every player was able to contribute and play their role is one of the key reasons for their success. Led by Co-Captains Mat Campbell & Glen Saville, the team consisted of: Melvin Thomas, Charles Thomas, Damon Lowery, Axel Dench, Grant Kruger, Matt “Ace” Garrison, Matt Shanahan, Luke Doherty and development players Kane Riley-Henderson & Josh Woods.
They were coached by 2001 NBL Coach of the Year Brendan Joyce and his assistants Eric Lowe, Eric Cooks, and Tom Penrose.
16 years ago we celebrated at the WIN Entertainment Centre as champions, let’s hope we do it again this season.
Check out the video package of the celebrations back at the WIN Entertainment Centre here
(Image from Illawarra Mercury Website)