Any nine-game losing streak ahead of a tough road trip to tackle the league-leaders is going to make for challenging times, but Cairns Taipans vice-captain Lucas Walker has overcome plenty in his NBL career to reach 200 games and this current hole is one he sees a way out of.
It’s proving to be a season going anything but to plan for the Taipans as they lost a ninth consecutive match on Friday night against the Illawarra Hawks to remain winless at home this season to be 1-9 ahead of a trip to Perth to play the Wildcats on Sunday at RAC Arena.
As if flying across the country and playing again inside 48 hours wasn’t enough, doing so against a Perth team sitting on top-of-the-table and desperate to make up for their own loss on Thursday in Sydney to the Kings won’t help that cause.
Neither will the fact that the Snakes come into the contest not having won since their first game of the season, but it does remain a team that shows signs of what it’s capable of and will have the added motivation on Sunday of Walker celebrating his 200th game in the NBL.
Overcome the odds is something that Walker has become used to throughout his career to now get to the 200-game mark, so overcoming a hurdle like a nine-game losing streak, a horror travel schedule and playing the league-leaders certainly doesn’t appear insurmountable.
Without question, it’s a big ask for the Taipans to win at RAC Arena on Sunday in Walker’s milestone game back in a city he called home for the past two years.
But Cairns have actually enjoyed a degree of success in Perth, at least considering the Wildcats have won 83 of the 104 games at RAC Arena, with the Snakes winning three of 14 appearances in the building.
It would be quite the upset if they could pull it off again on Sunday in the top against bottom clash. But Walker, Alex Loughton, Nate Jawai, Jarrod Kenny and if healthy, Dexter Kernich-Drew, will all be on hand as former Wildcats players looking to do well against their former teams.
Add in import trio Melo Trimble, DJ Newbill and Devon Hall playing well and it’s a Taipans team that should be better than 1-9 and is capable of better things.
Despite the tough start and undesirable record, Walker has been pleased to see the group stick together under rookie coach Mike Kelly and feels that a win isn’t too far away – which could kickstart a winning run.
“It only takes one win to start a winning streak and we’ve been putting in better efforts and have been giving ourselves better chances in recent weeks,” Walker said.
“We understand that and understand that there’s a couple of things we’re not doing which could help us get over the line. I think it is just around the corner.
“It is not an ideal situation to be in having lost nine games in-a-row and being 1-9, but we’ve stuck together so well and it would be really easy for a team to disconnect and fall away in this position.
“But I don’t think I’ve been on a team like this in a long time where everyone gets along so well on and off the court. I guess that’s a strength and it’s good to see that we’re all in this together and we’re acting like it too.
“It’s good to be part of a group that wins and loses together, but we are still fighting together which is probably the biggest positive from the situation.”
Walker joined Cairns for the 2018-19 season on the back of a terrific 2017-18 with the Wildcats which could very well have been the best and most consistent of his career.
He started throughout the campaign with the ‘Cats at the power forward spot and went on to average 8.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists – including a remarkable game where set a 40-minute NBL record with 12 offensive rebounds.
But he made the move to Far North Queensland to join the Taipans and it hasn’t been without its challenges to settle in for the recently-turned 34-year-old.
Soon after arriving and beginning pre-season, he underwent ankle surgery which he’s still trying to work back to 100 per cent from.
That time away from the group in pre-season might have delayed the settling in process, but the Taipans vice-captain is feeling more at home all the time both within the Snakes group and in Cairns.
“It’s hard because it’s still early days here and I definitely feel better now than I did maybe two months ago. It was a pretty unsettling start when I hurt my ankle three or four weeks into pre-season and had to sit out two months,” he said.
“Then when I came back just recently I was still unfamiliar with all the plays but the more I’ve been involved with practice over the last few weeks, it’s becoming a lot more familiar and comforting to settle in, and it feels better so I’m not as unsettled as I was fitting into the group.”
As for the ankle, it’s something that remains a constant battle for Walker to deal with every day but he’s not one to complain. He is just sucking it up and getting on with business because the alternative of spending more time on the sidelines was not something he wanted to consider.
“It’s still nowhere near 100 per cent now but it’s kind of getting better gradually week by week,” Walker said.
“I definitely tried to get back from surgery as quickly as I could and that may have been too early just through impatience and wanting to play, but it’s going to take some work and being consistent on it.
“Even though it’s been nearly three months there’s still plenty of stuff to do to make it feel better and I’m confident I’ll get there but it’s just going to take some work and patience, and time.
“It will get better with time and rest but obviously I don’t have the opportunity to rest it. I just have to do what I can to manage it and speed it along. It pulls up fine every day so it will just take patience and continuing to do the right things.”
This current ankle problem or losing streak he is part of with the Taipans is far from the first obstacle Walker has had to overcome during his NBL career and that’s why his 200-game milestone he reaches on Sunday deserves to be celebrated.
His story is one of dedication, commitment and perseverance, and of never letting anything stop you from achieving what you feel you are capable of.
Twice Walker has found himself without an NBL contract and having to dedicate himself to being a training player at a team with no guarantees – fresh out of college with the Melbourne Tigers and then with the Wildcats back for the 2016-17 season.
But his commitment led to good things on both occasions. He would go on to spend the first five seasons of his career with Melbourne – four at the Tigers and then another at the rebranded United as he made the most of the opportunity presented to him.
Then surprisingly after a solid season with the Adelaide 36ers in 2015-16, he found himself with a contract anywhere in the league.
He landed in Perth as a short-term injury replacement and remained with the team the rest of the campaign despite not playing another game.
But again he was rewarded with a contract for 2017-18 and went on to produce terrific performances for the Wildcats which were rewarded with a call up to the Australian Boomers where he was part of the Commonwealth Games gold medal winning team on the Gold Coast.
Overcoming those is a reason why Walker is so admired throughout the NBL and while he’s proud to reflect on the journey to 200 games now, never once along the way did he ever consider giving up.
“Proud maybe, but I just kind of think that that’s who I am. I don’t give up, I just keep working and the first year out of college when I didn’t have that NBL contract, I worked at Liquorland and trained with the Tigers in the morning before going on to do the nightshift at the bottle shop,” Walker said.
“That was something I enjoyed doing and wanted to do, so it was never a chore but I guess I’m proud of myself for not giving up. But it never really crossed my mind to give up anyway so I don’t feel as though I fought through a whole heap of adversity. It was just what had to happen really.”
NBL ROUND 8 FIXTURES (AEDT)
Sydney Kings 77 defeated Perth Wildcats 72
Cairns Taipans 84 lost to Illawarra Hawks 95
Brisbane Bullets 97 defeated Melbourne United 94
New Zealand Breakers v Sydney Kings – Spark Arena 12.20pm
Adelaide 36ers v Illawarra Hawks – Titanium Security Arena 2.50pm
Perth Wildcats v Cairns Taipans – RAC Arena 5.20pm
Melbourne United v Brisbane Bullets – Melbourne Arena 7.50pm