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Townsville’s Season to Remember

The Townsville Crocodiles finished the 2015/16 NBL season outside the Finals with an 11-17 record. They won only 39 per cent of their games and lost a few games by some pretty large margins. And yet, the story of this Crocs season is one of success. It’s a story keen NBL observers have watched unfold over the past five months; a story of persistence, resilience and progress. Tsv1 It’s remarkable, really, as losing seasons at the professional level are rarely viewed in positive terms. Ours is a cut-throat industry where fans, team owners and media are unrelenting in their demands for success. Head coach Shawn Dennis believes that this Crocs team will be remembered fondly by all who watched it, despite what the record books might show. He says it all boils down to how you define success. “If you judge success solely on the win-loss record then you’d look at 11-17 and say it hasn't been that successful,” Dennis said. “But when you look at what our club has been through over the last few years … you just can't always judge your success on the win-loss record alone. There's a lot more to it. Particularly when you're a smaller franchise and you've got to develop people – we've done a really good job of that this year.” Dennis led a group of men – and, let’s face it, a couple of boys – who believed in themselves from day one, despite few outside their locker room sharing in that belief. “As cliché as it sounds, we didn’t actually play into any of the hype, or I guess the anti-hype, of us not being a group that was going to be very successful. There was honestly no talk about it in team meetings or as a group as the season started,” reserve guard Corey Maynard told nbl.com.au. “We knew we had ten hungry guys that were going to get after it every night and we just kind of laid it all out there and let the chips fall where they may.” Where those chips fell was in series wins over Perth, Sydney and Cairns, victories over Melbourne, New Zealand and Adelaide and an unwavering commitment to fight above their weight class. One of the most impressive elements of Townsville’s season was their avoidance of anything resembling a slump.  It’s something that’s vitally important when coaching a young team. After all, consecutive losses are never much fun and, to borrow a line from the great Dr. Seuss, “Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” Corey1   It’s an aspect of the Crocs’ season that Dennis is particularly proud of. “We always seemed to be able to bounce back from a poor game and you look at the second half of the year where we’ve gone 7-7 and you sit back with some satisfaction that we evolved into something after a stack load of adversity,” Dennis said. “Look at some of the young kids and see how they started to come into their own and the confidence they gained from that.” One thing’s for sure, the Coach of the Year candidate struck an impressive balance between promoting that confidence and keeping his players accountable at the same time. Rookie big man Nick Kay, who excelled in his debut season, believes Dennis’ approach paid dividends along the way, particularly following those couple of heavy losses. “He really held us accountable and I think that was showing through those bounce backs,” Kay said. Maynard agrees, adding that Dennis’ message – and they way that it was delivered – was perfectly pitched at the young Crocs roster. “SD did a really good job all year of not jumping down our throats for those times and it can be a really good lesson for our group if we take the right things from it,” he said. “We had a group that's willing to learn, willing to listen and willing to be coached and I think that's why, down the pointy end of the season, we enjoyed a lot more success.” Mid-last year, right at the start of pre-season, the Crocs dedicated an entire training session to a round-table discussion on team culture. At the end of that talk, the Townsville players had establish a collective set of values; words they wished to be defined by over the course of the 2015-16 NBL season. Those words followed the Crocs everywhere, and were stuck up on locker room walls on the road. Maynard, for one, was pleased with the team’s ability to stay true to those words over the course of the year. “There were definitely times when I would look around and say ‘yep, everybody from one through fifteen embodies this culture that we've tried to create and we've all bought into’,” he said. “But obviously, with an 11-17 record, if we want to improve on that going forward we have to take that to another level.” Kay, the rookie, was harsher in his assessment. “Throughout the whole year I don't think we lived up to them as well as we should have,” he said. “Those first few games I think we struggled with it and that can be seen through the results. When we really bought into it you could see it out there on the court; guys were enjoying playing with each other and we were playing the right way that's why we got the results we did towards the end of the year.” kay1 For Dennis, it’s already about building on what has been achieved this year. “I think we’ve got a long way to go to live by those words consistently,” he said. “The idea of those words was to try and develop that inner motivation, for the guys to get that burning hunger that just makes you refuse to lose. I felt as the year wore on we showed signs of that. “The next step for this group is to have that hunger from day one.” You won’t see them in the Swisse NBL Finals and the record books won’t reflect it, but 2015-16 was a season to remember for the Townsville Crocs. Perhaps it’s only fitting that Maynard – the Croc who started it all with that three-point game winner vs Sydney in Round 2 – be given the last word. “An 11-17 season, you wouldn't really often look back on that fondly,” Maynard reflected after Townsville’s last game. “But just for a group of young guys to come together like we did, that's definitely something I'll remember for a long time.”
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