WARRNAMBOOL export Trevor Gleeson says he feels an air of excitement entering his first NBL finals campaign as Perth Wildcats coach.
The first-year Wildcats mentor led the club to the minor premiership and its 28th consecutive finals series.
Perth will play a fast-finishing Wollongong Hawks in a best-of-three semi-final series, starting with a home game at Perth Arena on Friday night.
Gleeson said he felt no added pressure to take the reigning runner-up to a sixth NBL championship, despite finishing the regular season with an imposing 21-7 win/loss record.
“It’s more exciting than anything,” he said.
“It’s what you train for and what the long hours are for, finals basketball.
“And now it’s here we need to take advantage.”
The former Townsville Crocs and Melbourne Tigers coach said he’d returned to the NBL system a more-rounded leader.
“I think the year off, even though you don’t look at it like that at the time, was kind of a blessing,” he said.
“I was able to bring things from the AFL across, especially communication skills and how to prepare for games, so that’s been beneficial.”
Gleeson said his decision to return to the sport and take on the league’s most successful franchise, and with it heightened expectations, had proved the right one.
The former Warrnambool Mermaids coach said his time away reignited his passion.
“I nearly walked away from basketball and was ready to go in a new direction,” he said.
“But you miss the camaraderie and ability to teach and bring everyone together from different walks of life and different stages of their careers (for one common goal).”
Gleeson said Perth was a proud club, highlighted by its remarkable finals streak.
“You build on that history. They’ve been very successful off the court (too),” he said.
“They have put a lot of time into the community and the guys do a lot of promotion — I think 300 hours each — and we get great crowds.
“It’s a good feeling to go into a stadium and play in front of a full house.”
The Wildcats finished runners-up to the New Zealand Breakers the past two seasons.
Gleeson had to mould a new-look squad together in his first year in charge.
American imports James Ennis — a Miami Heat-listed guard — and Jermaine Beal, Drake U’u, Tom Jervis and Eric Burdon were new additions this season.
“When you bring in 50 per cent of a team you don’t quite know (how it’s going to go) but the guys have come together faster than I thought,” he said.
Gleeson said it was imperative the Wildcats “keep improving”.
“You can’t stand still,” he said. “There are another three teams practising to knock us off — out the front you are a target.”
Wollongong finished the home-and-away season with a flurry, winning seven of its last nine games.
The Hawks finished with a road trip loss to the Wildcats on Sunday.
Perth will travel to Wollongong for game two of the semi-final series on Sunday and will host the third and deciding game at Perth Arena on Tuesday night if required.
All semi-finals will be shown on Channel 10 with the first two games of each series broadcast live in all markets.
Adelaide 36ers and Melbourne Tigers will meet in the other semi-final series.