By Lance Jenkinson
The wheel is about to turn full circle for Berwick’s Ben Hodgens.
A former elite player for Victoria’s wheelchair basketball team, the 32-year-old is on the verge of his final year of a long tenure of coaching the state side.
Before handing over the coaching reins after six on-and-off years, Hodgens wants to lead the Big V to a national title at the Kevin Coombs Cup next year.
It would be an incredible feat for Hodgens to go out on, in arguably the most challenging year in Victorian wheelchair basketball history due to the uncertainty surrounding the Covid pandemic.
“I’ve coached the team a few times now and it’s always an honour,” Hodgens said.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to give back and to mentor and guide these young athletes.
“I work with them throughout the year, but it’s really something to be able to help them and guide them through to be able to represent their state.”
Hodgens knows Victoria will be “starting behind the eight ball” compared to other states.
The Victorian lockdown forced by the pandemic has thrown the calendar into chaos and an inability to practice on indoor courts for the foreseeable future will have an impact on preparations.
Players have largely been left to their own devices and that could continue into the new year.
Some players will train on public asphalt courts, but they can be tough to navigate and cause damage to wheelchairs, making it a costly exercise.
“The Victorian players can’t get out to train, so fitness is going to be an issue,” Hodgens said.
“We can’t get everyone together on court, so team chemistry might be affected.
“Everything is going to be different this year, so it’s going to be an interesting challenge.”
Despite all the hurdles, Hodgens is unwavering in his belief that Victoria can emerge from the nationals as champions.
Not once, as a player or a coach, has Hodgens gone into a competition thinking the Big V could not win, and he is not about to let the pandemic change that mindset.
“I always think we can win the Kevin Coombs Cup,” he said.
“You’ve got to go in with that confidence.
“We’ve developed some good players over the last couple of years.
“We were really confident going in this year before everything kind of went south and didn’t happen.
“I’m kind of hoping we can carry on from sort of where we left off and have a really good crack at it this year.”
From a coaching perspective, Hodgens is not solely motivated by a gold medal.
Whether Victoria finishes first or last, he wants to leave the team in good shape for a sustained period of success and wants the players to enjoy the positive experience he used to feel when he was on court with the state team.
“If I’m really honest, my main aim is more just to develop these kids as much as possible to give them the best experience possible,” Hodgens said.
“Taking away gold is the bonus for all the hard work and development we do on and off the court.
“Some of those experiences I had as a player, I still remember how fantastic they were to this day.”
Hodgens’ assistant coaches Josh Allison and Jason Bryant could be ready-made replacements to take over his coaching role beyond 2021.
“I dare say one or the other will be head coach,” Hodgens said.