Diligence, commitment rewarded for Loughton in Cairns

Chris Pike Columnist

By Chris Pike, Chris Pike is a Roar Expert

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    The Cairns Taipans have their highly savoured New Year’s Eve game back, veteran forward Alex Loughton is a rejuvenated force and all that now awaits is them heading into 2018 on the ultimate high by beating the two-time defending champion Perth Wildcats.

    The Taipans organisation and the city of Cairns were rocked when last season’s schedule was released and the home game on New Year’s Eve they had celebrated with for the past 12 years had been taken away.

    Instead the Taipans played Queensland rivals Brisbane Bullets on the road, but the outcry has been heard, with the Snakes again given the ability to host a New Year’s Eve spectacular at Cairns Convention Centre.

    Not only do Cairns get to celebrate bringing in 2018 with a game on their home floor, but it’s massive for them in the context of their season up against the Wildcats.

    The Taipans come into the clash with an 8-10 record looking up at the top four as they prepare to tackle the two-time defending champions and league leaders from Perth.

    A win and the Snakes are right in the NBL playoff hunt, while a loss would leave them fighting for their lives heading into 2018.

    (Chris Pike)

    The combination of getting to host a game on New Year’s Eve for the 13th time in the past 14 years, the importance the game has on the context of the season and the fact they have a nice rivalry going with the Wildcats have all rejuvenated veteran Loughton up and going for the Snakes.

    “The New Year’s Eve game in Cairns is the biggest day on the calendar for the community as a whole. With a small club and town, it was all built into the event of the day to start on the Esplanade, go to the game and come back for the fireworks,” Loughton said.

    “It was a big deal for a lot of the city to build things around the game, so there was a lot of disappointment when the game was taken away. But to have it back has rejuvenated the community on how much it means to them.

    “I am expecting a huge game and obviously a sell-out of our stadium of 5300, and the place will be rocking against Perth. It was a heated contest against them earlier this season and it broke into a bit of a brawl, so the emotions will be high on New Year’s Eve, but we are looking forward to it.”

    One of the undoubted bright points of a season for Cairns that so far has had its challenges, particularly through injuries to big man Nate Jawai and import forward Michael Carrera, has been what 34-year-old Loughton has shown he is still capable of.

    With those injuries and the retirements of Mark Worthington and Cameron Tragardh the past two seasons, the chance was there for him to step up from playing career-low minutes last season to being back in a key role.

    Displaying his undying passion, competitiveness, drive to succeed, and most importantly putting in the most professional of preparation to ensure his body can deliver, Loughton is back to having a bigger impact in the NBL than he has had in years.

    He is closing in on the record for second-most games played for Cairns, having racked up 214 since playing 62 at Perth before leaving his hometown following the 2008-09 season, along with closing in on Martin Cattalini as the third leading scorer.

    (AAP Image/Brian Cassey)

    Loughton could very well have plenty left to offer beyond this season, but this campaign is far from done yet.

    Right now Loughton is averaging a team-high 12.4 points, and in the last two appearances against Adelaide and Illawarra he has put up 42 points and pulled in eight rebounds.

    The hard work he has put in to ensure his body and game remained in good shape even when his minutes diminished last season meant that Loughton is capable of firing this season, where he’s shooting 45 per cent from the field, 37 per cent three and 86 per cent at the foul line.

    Knowing that he was in the last year of his contract this season, Loughton was just going to throw everything at it that he could and let things land where they did.

    He wasn’t sure how his role in the Taipans team would compare to last season, but he put in the work in the off-season by playing both in the state league in Perth and then back in the Queensland Basketball League with the Cairns Marlins to ensure he was ready for whatever coach Aaron Fearne asked of him.

    Playing 26 minutes a game has been a big leap but something Loughton was ready for and that he is embracing full-heartedly.

    “Everything has a purpose to it and for me the offseason was a confidence-boosting one to play those games in Perth and in the QBL, much like the season before when we won the QBL championship,” Loughton said.

    “It really had a purpose of instilling in my mind that I could still play and still back it up and string some good games together. At the moment I’m stringing a good season together and it’s reassuring that all these lengths I go to in either my mental or physical preparation have helped get me in a position to succeed.

    “It’s coming up good at the moment and I just keep rolling with what my body can give me. I’ll be 35 in May but I’m just happy with the output at this stage, and it takes due diligence with my body to allow me to stay out there.

    “I have to go through a lot more of a process, but I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve enjoyed having to shoulder more of the load because of some injuries. It has been really reassuring that I’ve been able to produce with those extra minutes as well.

    “It’s been fun as well, and people often tell me I look like I’m having fun, and I am. I’m celebrating the successes and I really feel when we lose, but I’m working hard and I am playing as if it is my last year and am throwing it all out there. It’s a good mindset to have.”

    The Taipans clash with the Wildcats is the second of an NBL double-header on New Year’s Eve with the action taking place earlier in the afternoon with the Illawarra Hawks hosting the Brisbane Bullets at WIN Entertainment Centre. Both teams need a win to stay in touch with the top four.

    NBL Round 12 fixtures and results (AEDT)
    Tuesday (Boxing Day)
    Melbourne United 69 defeated Brisbane Bullets 68

    Thursday
    Illawarra Hawks 106 defeated Cairns Taipans 102

    Friday
    Adelaide 36ers 88 defeated New Zealand Breakers 85

    Saturday
    Sydney Kings 79 lost to Melbourne United 103

    Sunday (New Year’s Eve)
    Illawarra Hawks versus Brisbane Bullets – WIN Entertainment Centre, 3pm
    Cairns Taipans versus Perth Wildcats – Cairns Convention Centre, 7pm

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