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Jackomas Takes Responsibility Seriously to Show What's Possible

Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike

Jacob Jackomas has served quite the apprenticeship ahead of his first NBL head coaching role at the Illawarra Hawks and he now wants to make the best go at it possible to show all the other aspiring coaches across Australia what's truly possible.

For Jackomas to end up a head coach in the NBL from his humble beginnings should send a sign to every fledgling coach right across Australia that if they stick to their guns, learn their craft and continue to grow and develop, that they too can reach their dreams.

Now there's plenty immediately on Jackomas' mind after last week's announcement that he would be taking over the main job with the Hawks from his long-time mentor Brian Goorjian, and already he's learned that his phone rings a whole lot more.

The immediate task at hand is reflecting on the #NBL22 season for the Hawks that saw them lose in the semi finals to the Sydney Kings, and beginning to plan ahead for #NBL23.

However, in the bigger picture, Jackomas takes it seriously the role he will now play in showing other aspiring coaches across the country that there is a legitimate path to the top for them to see as a realistic goal.

After all, it was Adam Forde's journey from volunteer video assistant in Perth while still working as a prison officer and coaching in the now NBL1 West competition to ending up a head coach in Sydney, and now at the Cairns Taipans that showed Jackomas that it could be possible for him.

Now Jackomas wants to make the best fist of this chance in Illawarra to make sure that path is lit for others looking to keep that dream alive.

"I really want to stamp that and I'm really taking that as a responsibility of mine. I'm someone who didn’t really play, served an apprenticeship for years and started doing the video work and then had to learn how to work guys out," Jackomas said.

"I don’t know the exact year that I started, but it was at the Kings all those years ago. Then I went to China and never in my mind was I thinking that if I did this for five years or whatever, that it was a steppingstone to anything. I just wanted to be part of the game. I see something similar with Adam Forde and I have a respect for the grind that he went through to get the chances that he has now. 

"I'm really hanging my hat on knowing that in the back of my mind there are a lot of good Australian coaches out there who have done better than I have but not been able to get an opportunity like this. I am really into that narrative and it's not about me, but understanding there's a responsibility to all these people especially in Australia where a lot of coaching has to be done for nothing.

"You have coaches in the local leagues and for representative teams who are responsible for the development of our younger players basically do it for nothing, and I really think about that a lot in terms of showing all of them what's possible. 

"I will treat that as some sort of responsibility and I have to do a thoroughly good job so that the next coach can come through just like I felt with Adam. I saw that and thought by him doing that, he was giving me a chance and now I want to do that for the next coaches coming through."

Now that Jackomas has been appointed a head coach in the NBL, it gives him the chance to reflect on just how far he has come.

The days of starting out cleaning planes in the morning, heading to Sydney Kings practice, coaching at private schools around Sydney and then closing up pizza shops at night are all in the past. 

But he wouldn’t change anything about the journey that's brought him here either.

"I remember the last year we were at the Kings at 3am I would get up to go and clean planes," Jackomas said. 

"So from 4-8am I would do that at the airport before getting to Kings practice by 8.30, be done there by about 1pm and then would get to a school by 3pm to do some coaching in one of the private schools. 

"I'd then go from there and go drop off to Goorj whatever he needed and then at night, one of my best friends owned pizza shops all around Sydney. Because they had too many, somebody had to help close them all up so I'd count all the money, clean the floors and close up one of the stores each night. 

"I'd get to bed at about 11.30pm and then do it all over again. I did that for that entire last year when we were at the Kings. Then two years later I think I was flying in one of those planes that I used to be cleaning going off to China, which was cool, and the rest is history."

It took a while for it to sink in that Jackomas was now actually the head coach of the Illawarra Hawks.

Just days earlier they were battling the Sydney Kings in Game 2 of the semi finals, but all of a sudden Goorjian had stepped down, recommended Jackomas to take over from him and the Hawks management agreed.

It's now starting to sink in that his dream is coming true and it's been a quick period of growth for him already.

"After the announcement I spoke to some friends from school and from when we used to go to the blacktop and just play," Jackomas said.

"I wasn’t very good but one of them made the comment about how I was able to go to the Olympics and now I'm a head coach in the NBL. It's obviously a dream of mine and it's something that you have to be lucky with and my luck was obviously working for Brian for so long. 

"There has to be an element of hard work as well and some sort of talent I guess thrown in. That was the first time that it really kicked in when my friend said that we just used to play basketball and now you are a head coach. 

"To actually now be a head coach in the national league is a dream come true and it's a different kind of feeling. Then also waking up the next day and knowing about the work that's involved that is suddenly my responsibility, and the phone calls and everything, is something that I'm not used to. 

"That's another great feeling that I'm in a position that I'm totally uncomfortable with and have to grow with that. I love that that growth I've already gone through since the announcement as both a man and a coach."

It might appear a well thought plan for Goorjian to come back to the NBL, coach the Hawks for two years and then to hand over the reins to Jackomas.

However, if it was a plan that Goorjian had with the Hawks hierarchy, it was news to Jackomas when he was approached to take over last week, but he couldn’t be more appreciative of the opportunity.

"I just love being part of the team. Whatever role it was over the years, I just loved being part of it and to be fair it was really only in the past year or so I've really thought of being a head coach," he said.

"You always have that aspiration in the back of your mind of not being content with where you are, and you always have to be challenged in this game to continue to grow. 

"But it's only since I came to the Illawarra and back with Goorj in the NBL environment that I could say I have first thought I could really be a head coach. I had dreamed of it, but was starting to actually be confident I could do it and then without really telling me what was going on, Brian had a plan. 

"It was a shock to me that he was done because we'd always been worried about what was next. But this was the first time he said to me that it was time for me to do this as long as the ownership wanted me to."

The first time Jackomas seriously thought head coaching was closer than he might have realised was when he did have to take over for one game with Goorjian sidelined with COVID. 

He took the Hawks to a win over Melbourne United and now he is grateful and honoured that both Goorjian and Illawarra management feel he is the right man to take over full-time.

"To be fair after that game I coached is when there was a bit more chatter around if I could be a head coach one day," he said.

"That helped my confidence which I know is a bit silly because it was only one game and I was coaching a team that Brian prepared, but still that's when it started to become a bit clearer in my mind.

"Brian had a good plan in his mind for it, though, and we didn’t even really need to talk about it and then in his mind, he felt the timing was right. I obviously appreciate him feeling that way and I think he was right in terms of it being the right time for both of us and with some of the guys here."

It doesn’t appear Goorjian will be coaching anywhere else at least in the immediate future in the NBL, and coaching against him isn’t something Jackomas has thought about. 

Until he was stumped by the question and couldn't hide his amusement at the prospect.

"I've never been asked that question before and I've never thought about it, but it would be really strange," Jackomas said through some laughter. 

"The greatest thing about it is that he would want to kick my arse but I know that it wouldn’t be a handshake at the end, it would be a hug. 

"It would be really strange for five minutes and then I'd look at him and know he'd want to kick my arse. Then at the end of the game the hug would be one of the great experience. Who knows if it will ever happen though."

Jackomas isn’t really too sure just yet how life will change for him as a head coach in the NBL.

He knows that suddenly a lot more people want to talk to him. He also knows he'll suffer a lot more of the blame when the Hawks lose some games.

Outside of that, he hopes not too much changes.

"My phone rings a lot more, that's one thing that has immediately changed. I don’t know what else is going to change though. With the players, it won't change much at all," Jackomas said.

"We go to a lot of dinners together here because there's a lot of people living away from home. And last year because of COVID we relied on each other a lot and a lot of the guys would come to my apartment and we'd watch games together. 

"It was more with the Americans like Tyler and Justinian, and that turned into dinners a lot because we were all on our own. Duop then joined us this year and it was funny, the other day he asked me if he could still come to our dinners because we don't know what he's doing next year. 

"But with the players, the unique relationship we have on and off the court is something I hope won't change and that's because of the power of the group and what kind of people they are. 

"The biggest change so far has been a lot more people wanting to talk to me, but I'm just going to continue being myself and hopefully not too much will change. What I do know is that if we win games then the players are doing a great job, and if we lose, then my game will get mentioned a lot more."

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