How Wildcats call saved Gleeson

About a year ago, Trevor Gleeson was ready to walk away from the game he loved.

How things can change.

Tonight, Gleeson will lead the top-seeded Perth Wildcats into game one of their best-of-three NBL semifinal series against Wollongong in front of an expected sell-out crowd at Perth Arena.

Gleeson coached Townsville for five years, taking them to five consecutive finals series, before an ill-fated move to Melbourne Tigers last season.

Football was an option for Gleeson, who spent time in specialist roles with AFL clubs Hawthorn and North Melbourne.

But then came a phone call from Wildcats managing director Nick Marvin, who was looking for a coach after the departure of championship-winning mentor Rob Beveridge.

Marvin's overture was timely, and Gleeson's Wildcats now appear to be on the verge of something special in their 28th consecutive year of making the finals.

"I was probably ready to walk away from basketball until I got a phone call from Nick to see if I was interested at all," Gleeson said.

"I'm super excited. This is what you work for.

"We've been working since July, since we got here and got the right personnel on board.

"The guys have been working really hard all season and I'm just happy at this time of the year.

"This is more the players' time than the coaches' time.

"We've already done our work and now it's really time to come out and see what this team's made of."

Wollongong looked a spent force in January before storming home to win seven of their last nine regular-season games and sneak into fourth spot.

But they have struggled against Perth this season.

Of their four clashes with the Wildcats, the Hawks won once by five points in overtime at home and lost the other three games by an average of 24.7 points.

Their overall record at the Arena is even worse - they have lost all five games by an average of 25.8 points.

American import Rotnei Clarke, a former NCAA sharpshooter at Arkansas and Butler, shapes as the key to Wollongong's chances of an upset.

Clarke said it would be difficult to silence the huge Perth crowd tonight.

"It's definitely a great atmosphere (at the Arena)," Clarke said.

"It reminds me a lot of college. We played at venues like that almost every night. They really feed well off that energy and they're really vocal, too."

Both teams have used the week to rest weary bodies after a 28-game season and will take healthy squads into the match.

·Adelaide 36ers got their finals series off to a convincing start by beating Melbourne 101-85 in Adelaide last night.

"We've already done our work and now it's really time to … see what this team's made of."" *Trevor Gleeson *

The West Australian

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