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Leaving Mark on Illawarra Key for 300-Gamer Coenraad

Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike


Everything about Tim Coenraad's 11-year, 299-game journey at the Illawarra Hawks makes him one of the NBL's lone remaining foundation club's all-time greats but ever the humble man, he doesn’t feel like that and he just wants to remembered for helping making an impact.


Coenraad joined the Hawks to start his NBL career for the 2009/10 season having grown up in Brisbane and then spending four years at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida, and he's never looked back.


He became the starting small forward on that team that reached the Grand Final and took the Perth Wildcats to three games, and that would become the story of his career with the Hawks. Every time they look like breaking through for that ultimate success, it has been Perth in the way.


But now in his 11th season with the Hawks, Coenraad has every right to be considered a great of the last remaining NBL foundation club and while that might not necessarily sit well with him when he thinks of Glen Saville, Mat Campbell and Gordie McLeod, it might be something he has to get used to.


Coenraad will become the third player in Hawks history to reach 300 games this New Year's Eve at home to the Sydney Kings and along the journey, he is rising in a lot of statistical categories including sitting fourth all-time in three-pointers made with 371.


And even at 34 years of age, Coenraad might very well have had the most remarkable 12 months of his life. In a basketball sense, that saw him make his debut for the Boomers playing in FIBA World Cup qualifiers in Kazakhstan and Iran.


But that was just the beginning. He also threw himself into 3x3 basketball and ended up being part of the winning Australia FIBA Asia Cup team and then in his personal life, he and wife Nelly have welcomed son Tyson into the world.


He's now playing a key role on a Hawks team still trying to find its groove in #NBL20 with 8.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists a game having now transformed into a power forward shooting at 41 per cent from downtown.


While Coenraad is now to reach such a significant milestone as 300 games this Tuesday night, what he ultimately hopes his career is remembered for is for what he brought to the Wollongong community and to basketball in the Illawarra.


"It's great to say that I've been a one club guy for my career so far and Illawarra is just like that town that's easy to stay in. It's got everything that you want here, it's got culture, it's got food and it's got that reputation as a working-class city, and people who look after the Illawarra," Coenraad said.


"A lot of people have been very generous with their time and money towards the Hawks over the years and I know when we first got here, we were community owned and members of the board were mortgaging houses to make sure we got paid.


"I don’t know of any other team professionally that's done that before. It's something that's really special to me with the process we've gone through.


"I've had opportunities to go but I wanted to stay here, and wanted to build something here and a lot of seasons haven’t gone the way we planned, especially this season so far which has been a bit chaotic, but I just hope that I can leave some kind of mark on the Illawarra and make sure that I can carry that on after I stop playing in some capacity."


Coenraad might not put himself as Hawks legends like Saville, Campbell and McLeod, and he is comfortable if others don't either. But the reality is now in 11 seasons with Illawarra, there have been precious few more loyal, consistent and dedicated Hawks players.


He has continued to give his all in teams which have made two Grand Finals and three more semi finals in his career to go with the challenging seasons mixed in.


While it will be left for others to judge where Coenraad fits in history of the Hawks, there's little question on day his No. 22 deserves to be hung in the rafters.


But ultimately for Coenraad, it's his ability to have an impact on basketball in the region as a whole through being a player at the Hawks which means the most to him.


"If people do look at me that way, which I'm not sure they do, it would mean a lot. I've always been the first person to be very critical of myself and I don’t feel like I've done near enough as much of the work of guys like McLeod, Saville and Campbell," Coenraad said.


"But if people are starting to tie my name to the Illawarra Hawks as being that kind of guys for having been around a while and having done good things in the community, then I'm proud of that.


"The proudest I am of the work we do in the community and going into the schools, and things like starting the Indigenous Round.


"I'm trying to bring some of the awesome stuff that they can do in America in terms of individual coaching to basketball in Illawarra. On that respect, I hope I'm looked at as someone who has done good for basketball in Illawarra."


Often when you get to be heading towards your mid-30s and in the twilight of your career, new experiences don't always come your way anymore, especially career highlights but this past 12 months has been the total opposite for Coenraad.


He had pretty much given up on ever playing for Australia and was even considering representing the Netherlands, but then the FIBA window at the end of last NBL season opened up the opportunity for him to make his Boomers debut.


That was a dream come true for him and then it went on to continue thanks to 3x3 basketball where he was part of Australia's triumphant Asia Cup team and they are opportunities he'll forever treasure.


"It's special, it really is. Especially for the point I was at in my career, at one point I actually just wanted to see if I wanted to make the Netherlands national team because I had my passport so I had looked into that," he said.


"But to get that call up for Australia, and I know a lot of guys weren’t available, but I honestly don’t care. I grabbed it with both hands and had a great experience, and got to meet some great people and experience going to some countries.


"I got to travel with 3x3 as well and it was a dream come true for a kid who had always wanted to play for his country since he could walk. To be able to do that and have some success, and win that qualifier in the 3x3 was amazing."


While those were highlights of his basketball life, becoming a father over the last 12 months along with wife Nelly has been a life changing experience too for Coenraad. And having just celebrated a first Christmas with son Tyson was a memorable time in their family's life.


"The little man had a great time for Christmas. We had a good little family Christmas with me, my wife, my mum and our little man," Coenraad said.


"We're fortunate to live in a really good neighbourhood where everyone on the streets gets together with all their families to celebrate. It was a great Christmas with a good feel about it and a good start for my little man's first Christmas."


If you go back 11 seasons when Coenraad was a rookie with the Hawks, he was the starting three man on that team that went to the Grand Final and had quite the battle with the Wildcats.


At that time for Coenraad that meant matching up with fellow three men like Shawn Redhage, Adam Ballinger, Mark Worthington and Tom Abercrombie – all of whom would be more four men in the NBL a decade later.


Coenraad too has had to transform his game and he continues to try to do his best to play to his strengths, and still to find a way to battle in areas that might not be his strong suits.


"I've really just gone from being on the perimeter and guarding the perimeter to now guarding inside, that's really the main move I've made," Coenraad said.


"I've never really had a great nose for the basketball in terms of rebounding, so what I've tried to focus on is being able to make sure my guy doesn’t get it or to box someone out. I'm not someone that's going to get above the rim and snatch it off the rim or anything like that, so I just try to make sure my guy doesn’t get it.


"That might not always work, but that's what I focus on. I know my strengths and that certainly isn’t being athletic and getting above the rim for a rebound. So in terms of my game and the way it's evolved, I've gone on to become that pick and pop four man where I try to get guys open and try to create confusion with switches, and just try to stay active.


"A lot of what the league is on-ball screens so it's about being active and reactive when I'm guarding the big on that. That's the goal in every game that we come out, but obviously there's a lot of great players in the league and schemes will work sometimes and sometimes they won't.


"You just have to keep evolving and what we did well in our win against Adelaide was that we had a game plan, we went to it and then shifted away from it so they didn’t get used to it.


"Teams are always downloading information in the first half and bring it back at you in the third and fourth quarters, so we changed what we did and worked out well, but that doesn’t always work out like that."


As for the Hawks organisation, it remains a club that Coenraad is tremendously proud to be part of and he has done his best to keep the culture going strong, and it's something he is going to continue to make a heavy focus.


"The only thing that's really changed over the years is the level of work behind at the scenes of the club. There's now a lot of social media being done and everything has tightened up and being regulated a lot more, especially this year with LaMelo coming in," Coenraad said.


"But I'd like to think that the culture has kept the same and really the defining years were made by the guys like Glen Saville and Mat Campbell. I probably haven’t done enough to try and maintain that culture throughout the years if I'm critical on myself because those guys left such a great legacy.


"That was a culture where guys came in and knew exactly where they stand, and if they deviated from that those guys would let them know. In some capacity, we haven’t kept that as well as I'd like to have but I like the fact that those guys are still around the club and obviously Maty Campbell is now the GM and Sav is getting involved in coaching with the younger kids in the Illawarra.


"I'm trying to do that too and I want basketball in the Illawarra to go upwards and keep moving forward, that's probably my main goal. If I can do anything, it's to increase the level of basketball and of skill and professionalism in the Illawarra."


One thing Coenraad hasn’t done with the Hawks is be appointed captain and even this season that has been the case following the departure of Kevin White to Adelaide with Todd Blanchfield and David Andersen stepping into the role.


But that's something that sits comfortably with Coenraad and he'd prefer to lead in a quieter capacity anyway.


"I haven’t necessarily focused on leadership this year and if I'm honest with myself, I'm not really an outspoken kind of leader when it comes with being out on the floor," Coenraad said.


"I've never felt that is a strong attribute of mine and I always feel I'm better off just giving guys some quiet advice when I see that they might need it. Obviously with our leadership group we've got some good guys and our captains are Todd and Q'y and they've been around a long time and have earned that spot.


"They've played at the highest level and I've got no problem with them taking the captaincy role and I'll do what I can where I feel I'm at my strongest, and where I'm not is in the heat of the moment.


"Being that on-court general really hasn’t been a stamp of mine just because I know it's not my strong suit, and I think the coaches have seen that. I'm more the guy who will give some advice in the background and not try to take over the group in the heat of the moment."


In terms of new experiences late in his career, the arrival of NBL Next Star LaMelo Ball to Illawarra this season has certainly been that too this season. But Coenraad couldn’t have been more impressed with everything to do with the likely 2020 No. 1 NBA Draft pick.


"I think it's been a positive experience. Obviously we've added a lot of new guys this season so it was all about trying to gel and then when I felt like that was starting to happen, we won a couple of games and then all these injuries popped so it's been a bit of a chaotic season," Coenraad said.


"But in regards to LaMelo, the most amazing thing about him is that no matter all the attention on him, the kid doesn’t get rattled. He's always cool about people coming at him and everyone brings their A-game and are focusing on playing well against him because they know that's a good way to get notice.


"So he has 100 per cent pressure on him all the time and for an 18-year-old kid he handles that extremely well. I think that's a testament to our coaching staff, to Jermaine Jackson and his upbringing to have him ready for it."

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