By MITCH RODD
THE Mildura Heat have walked the Big V Basketball finals tightrope before, and they can do it again.
Last season the relatively young squad defied all expectations to make the Division 2 Men’s best-of-three grand final series after finishing sixth.
They may have lost to the Coburg Giants, but they won many admirers across the competition. After another year of development, the third-placed Heat will host the sixth-placed Packenham Warriors in an elimination final at the Peter Kittle Mildura Toyota Hothouse.
If you suddenly felt a sense of deja vu, that’s because the same teams, who finished in the same positions, will play at the same stadium from the same round of finals in 2017.
If the Heat have any say, however, the result will be different. That year the Warriors surprised the Heat and came up trumps with a 67-66 victory.
Mildura star Calvin Henry, ABOVE, said the Heat have to be wary of the experienced Packenham outfit, and would only focus on “one game at a time”.
“We’re feeling good,” Henry said. “We’ve won our last three games but Packenham are a really good and experienced team.
“We had the same match-up here two years ago and Packenham won that one. That was the first time that this group of players as a team experienced that, so just the experience of being the higher seed.
“They’ll be ready, and we’ll have to be as well. We have to come out hard and match their intensity from the start.
“Most of this team was in the Big V grand final (in 2018), and I know a lot of the younger guys played in the CBL grand final as well, so we do have experience in the big games.”
The 2019 version of the Heat powered out to a 12-0 record to begin the season. Some patchy form followed as they won just three of their next nine games, before finishing the home-and-away season on a three-game winning streak.
The dip in form coincided with Henry missing four games with a strained Achilles, but the 33-year-old, who has averaged 22.55 points per game, said there are no lingering injury issues.
“I had a strained calf/Achilles but it’s all good now,” he said.
Henry has seen plenty of change since first joining the Heat program back in 2013. The veteran said he has enjoyed seeing the evolution and development of his younger teammates across the years.
“Two or three seasons ago we decided to reset, and now we’ve had the progression we’ve been looking for,” he said.
“Personally it’s awesome to see the growth in players like Dallas (Brown), Jay (Madigan) and Alex (Newstead), who were just rookies when I first came to Mildura.
“Noah Valentich has surprised me this year. He didn’t play much Big V in the last couple of years, but he’s really stepped it up, especially on defence. I would say he’s been our defensive stopper this year. He’s definitely not a rookie anymore.”
Calvin also praised the impact of coach Mahaela Jackson in her debut campaign at the helm of the men’s side.
“She’s been great. She knows what she is doing and from day one she showed us respect, and we showed her respect,” he said. “It has made a difference having her on the sidelines with her knowledge and encouragement.”
The Big V Basketball Division 2 Men’s elimination final between the Mildura Heat and the Packenham Warriors tips off at 7pm tomorrow night.