Tall Ferns assistant coach Chris Lucas has attended six world championships as a coach with various Australian teams, the most recent the Under 17 Women’s championships in the Czech Republic last year.
When overlooked by the Basketball Australia appointments committee for 2015 Tall Ferns head coach Kennedy Kereama was quick to approach the affable South Australian citing a number of reasons for wanting him as part of his coaching team.
“I wanted someone who could challenge me philosophically and someone who has also been in my position as an international head coach. He understands the psyche of the Australians, the people we are trying to beat this year. He’s also worked with a couple of the New Zealand players already and built a great rapport with them. Chris has a wealth of knowledge and he is going to really enhance the Tall Ferns programme.”
For his part Lucas is delighted to have joined forces with Kereama.
“I see this as a wonderful opportunity to stay involved at the international level, I love the international game and I see it as a big challenge as well, which is a driving force behind my decision.”
“There is no question it is going to be a big test against Australia and a huge challenge to qualify for the Olympics but that is the primary aim and I feel that being involved I might be in a position to assist Kennedy, the team and the country to achieve that ultimate goal.”
Lucas has had a distinguished career coaching in the Australian WNBL, culminating in his Townsville Fire club winning its first championship earlier this year. The Fire team boasted Tall Ferns point guard Micaela Cocks as one of its members.
His job with the Fire takes him away from his family in Adelaide for eight months of the year yet despite this he has committed to the Tall Ferns beyond this current campaign.
“I think to get an end result you have to make a commitment and I’ve made that for two years, I feel comfortable with it.”
The Tall Ferns assistant admits it will feel a little odd when he is lined up facing his old colleagues come the opening game of the Oceania series against Australia on Saturday.
“It will feel a bit strange when we get into that first game in Melbourne but that is only natural. I’m not the first Australian coach to join the New Zealand programme and I won’t be the last and I see it as a big challenge but exciting at the same time.”
Lucas is aware that the average age of the New Zealand team is just 23, a lot younger than their Australian counterparts and admits that poses some challenges for the coaching staff and senior players Micaela Cocks, Lisa Wallbutton and Natalie Taylor.
“Our senior players are not silly, they know what is in front of them. Australia is extremely talented there is no question about that, they are bigger than us, and their scoring ability is going to be strong. But it is exciting for the future. The way that New Zealand plays their basketball, they will take it up to Australia, they won’t stand down.
However the reality is that Australia are ranked 2nd in the world and New Zealand are ranked 22nd – there is a big gap but if we can make that gap as tight as possible it will be a great achievement. We are looking to compete and win those games.”
The Olympic qualifying series is now just around the corner and Lucas is looking forward to that.
“It’s going to be exciting in Melbourne playing in front of 15,000 fans in a wonderful stadium. We just have to make sure the young players don’t get too excited and we are ready to play. That will be the job of the coaching staff and I think we can do a good job of that.”
He may be the only Australian shouting for the Tall Ferns at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night but rest assured he will relish every minute of it.