Warrnambool fans on the Wildcatsbandwagon

Perth Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson (left) welcomes a busload of Warrnambool supporters into the team’s change rooms after their NBL win in Melbourne on Sunday. Picture: SuppliedPERTH Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson wants to enter the new year on a winning note as the reigning NBL champion strives to book a top-two finish and a home-court advantage come finals.

The third-placed Wildcats play bottom-placed Wollongong Hawks on the second leg of a road trip tonight in a New Year’s Eve showdown, fresh from ending a three-game away losing streak with an overtime win against Melbourne United on Sunday.

A pocket of the almost 7000-strong crowd at Hisense Arena — the biggest the newly-branded United has hosted — was in Gleeson’s camp, cheering the former Warrnambool Mermaids coach on in the down-to-the-wire contest.

A busload of Warrnambool fans made the trek to Melbourne to watch the south-west-bred coach lead his team to its 11th win of the NBL season.

Gleeson brought the contingent into Perth’s change rooms to meet the players after the win.

“It’s something I remember when I was a kid, meeting players after a game, and you like to do these things (now you can), especially for the young kids,” he said.

Gleeson said he was humbled to have strong support from his home town.

“I was really rapt when I was told there was a big bus coming down,” he said.

“I tried to get clappers and sticks for them (to cheer with) but our office had shut down over that period.”

Gleeson said Perth’s win against fourth-placed Melbourne was vital to its top-two chances.

The top two teams earn home-court advantage in best-of-three semi-final series.

The Wildcats sit below New Zealand Breakers and Cairns Taipans but have games in hand.

“It’s a good place to be — the hunter instead of hunted,” he said.

“There is definitely something to play for.

“We have to play all of them in January — Cairns twice, New Zealand over there and Melbourne at home — so the next four weeks will really dictate where we finish up.”

Perth captain Damian Martin will play his 200th NBL game against Wollongong.

Gleeson said the four-time league defensive player of the year was among the Wildcats’ most consistent performers.

“He was crook last game … and to play the game he played is what captains do, they step up in that situation,” he said.

“So it was a fantastic effort for him to give that intensity.”

Martin will notch the milestone with close friend Greg Hire still sidelined with injury.

Hire is on the cusp of a return after missing the past 14 games with a serious calf injury he sustained in the opening round.

“To have one of your better players out and still be where we are (on the ladder) is fantastic,” Gleeson said.

“Adding him back in will be a big bonus for us.”

Gleeson’s basketball commitments extend beyond the NBL season, which wraps up in March.

He will resume his position as Australian Boomers assistant coach — a role which took him to the FIBA world cup in Spain in September, where he worked with NBA-calibre players including Cleveland’s Matthew Dellevadova, San Antonio Spurs’ Aron Baynes and Utah duo Dante Exum and Joe Ingles.

“Oceania qualifiers are in New Zealand and it’s a two-game series to qualify for the Olympics so that’s pretty big,” Gleeson said.

Gleeson said the world cup was an eye-opening experience which he hoped would help in the Wildcats’ quest for back-to-back NBL crowns.

“It was fantastic to experience it and see how good they are and see how the best in the world go about it,” he said.

“I picked up a lot and have brought it back and hopefully it shows out in the second half of the year.”

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