2020/21 Junior Championship 1st Team Coaching Appointments

‘Experienced educators’ is the best way to describe the Eltham Wildcats Junior Championship 1st team coaching line-up for the 2020/21 season.

From teachers, to former national league players, to people with over 20 years of coaching history in the game; after a difficult time in 2020, our 1st team coaching appointments ensure an environment for players of all ages to return to the representative level with development and fun at the front of mind.

‘Building from within’ is something of great pride at the Eltham Basketball Club and proof as to the focus on development across the club. In keeping to that, it is of note that 7 of the 8 coaches named are individuals who’ve undertaken the majority of their coaching and in some cases, their playing careers, at the Eltham Wildcats. “When you have lifetime Wildcats such as Ben Cukier, Carly Stones and Rachel Wallace who all grew up playing in the red and black, balanced with recent member to our family Mannon Nolan-Black; our program is in safe hands coming out of a difficult time” said Basketball Operations Manager Connor Matthews.

High level coaching isn’t strictly limited to the coaches announced as 1st team coaches. Coaches filling out our coaching line-up will be a combination of individuals with experience and developing coaching talent. Interim Director of Coaching Leighton Lewis explains – “Our coaching leadership has focused for many years on identifying and developing coaches. We’re also incredibly lucky to have a team of long term coaches who’ve been with us for many years that have a passion for children’s basketball and support providing opportunities for boys and girls of all ages. With one of Australia’s largest Junior Championship programs, a balance of experience and developing coaching talent is important. We look forward to announcing the remaining appointments as they are finalised.”

CEO of the Eltham Wildcats Greg Jeffers stated: “On behalf of the General Committee and staff of the Eltham Wildcats Basketball Club congratulations to the coaches on being selected and thank you to the Coaching Leadership team and their interview panels for their diligence in making these appointments. In many ways the role of all coaches is going to have a different focus in 2020/21 and I think we’re incredibly well placed to provide an environment for players to return in a positive way. Amongst the coaches named are multiple individuals with international and national representation as coaches at the junior level. It is an incredible position to be in. Knowing the quality of coaches we have not named today; our kids are in good hands regardless of the team they play in for 2020/21.”

2020/21 Junior Championship 1st team Head Coaches:  

12/1 Girls – Mannon Nolan-Black

Joining the Eltham Wildcats in 2019 as Coach for the 14/2 Girls, the Educational Aide at Apollo Parkways PS teacher was in her debut Eltham season prior to COVID. Mannon’s basketball playing career saw her come through the Broadmeadows program, but she has undertaken coaching opportunities at Craigieburn and Whittlesea across all levels, running Aussie Hoop beginner programs through to being an Assistant Coach in the Youth League (U23’s) Women’s competition. In the VJBL Mannon has coached predominantly in the U14 age group, but spent many years coaching Domestic in the U10 and U12 age brackets.

Having been one of our most prominent volunteer coaches leading ‘Ready 2 Rebound’ Mannon has demonstrated an attention to detail on fundamentals, but doing so in a fun way. This is seen as critical for our U12’s given the amount of time these players have spent away from the game.

12/1 Boys – Rachel Wallace

One of our amazing lifetime Wildcats, having played all her basketball from juniors through to seniors in the Eltham ranks, Rachel bleeds red and black! A long time teacher and now Assistant Principal at Beverley Hills PS, Rachel is one of our most popular coaches amongst junior players. Having been a dedicated Domestic coach in the EDJBA and Championship coach, who has also taken the opportunity to be an Assistant Coach in the past, the highlight of which was the U14 Boys National Championship in 2018, Rachel will be a leader amongst the U12 Boys coaching landscape in the VJBL. Passionate about her players loving the game whilst they also learn the fundamentals, we are incredibly lucky to have Rachel Wallace leading the 12/1 Eltham Wildcat boys in 2021.

We’ll have a group with a greater work ethic than any other in this team under Rachel’s guidance.

14/1 Girls – Ben Cukier 

Another of our lifetime Wildcats, having played all his basketball in the red and black, whilst also pursuing a successful coaching career. Under Ben’s coaching, a long list of female players came through the Eltham program and into state and national junior teams, but also into Australian Opals, WNBL and countless College opportunities in the USA. Amongst that list of local players include Alice Kunek, Anneli Maley and Sam Creed, all of whom today have strong links back to the club on a regular basis. Ben’s team have won National Junior Classic and Victorian State Championships, whilst individually he has gone onto lead the Victorian Metro teams to multiple national titles.

There are very few more credentialed junior coaches than Ben Cukier and we’re incredibly pleased to have him back leading the U14 girls for 2021.

14/1 Boys – Carly Stones

Another dedicated and passionate coach whom over the last 6 years in particular has devoted hours every week to improving players, herself and other coaches. Another junior player of the Wildcats who played all the way through the system, before spending some time away from the game, Carly returned as a parent and has dedicated incredible time to educating herself on the game, to then share with others. Carly’s 12/1 Boys in 2019 won the National Junior Classic, whilst she also had the change to Assistant Coach the U14 Boys National Championship winning team in 2017, before heading to the Jr NBA World Championships with them in Florida in 2018.

Carly has also been selected as an Assistant Coach for Victoria Country for 2021, having featured recently within the Victoria Country high performance programs.

16/1 Girls – Chris Cameron

A late comer to basketball, but someone who played in the NBL and at College in the USA, Chris also has a long history as a teacher, for the most part at Montmorency South PS. Finishing his playing career at Eltham whilst we were in the Big V competition, Chris was also previously our Championship Boys ‘Director of Coaching’ before the restructure of the coaching program, saw him become the ‘Lead Coach’ for the U16 and U18 age groups across boys and girls. Chris coached the 16/1 Boys in 2019 to the National Junior Classic and Runners-Up in the Victorian State Championships, but took on the 16/2 Girls in 2020 before COVID. Chris’ high basketball IQ and teaching background, gives these girls a terrific opportunity to elevate their game to the next level.

Chris is also an Assistant Coach to our U23 Youth Men’s State Championship division team.

16/1 Boys – Sean Clarke

We love seeing players move through the system, become young leaders and transition into the different streams available in basketball; in this case coaching. Sean’s playing career continues now, but includes 5 years at the U23 Youth Championship level for Eltham, three years of which he captained the team which included back to back State Championship Grand Finals, having graduated from our junior program. Despite being an undersized ‘4’ Sean would lead the top U23 league in Australia for shot blocks and defensively shut down some of Australia’s leading up and coming players.

Whilst playing, Sean began coaching and in partnership with another promising coach in Ben Nethercote won their VJBL competition in their first season! From there, Sean has taken opportunities to further his knowledge and skillset by coaching different age groups across boys and girls, at Domestic and Championship, to now be ready for this opportunity with the 16/1 Boys. Sean is one of the finest up and coming coaches in Victoria and we know he and his players will blossom in 2021. As a player and coach, Sean has spent years learning from some of our most experienced coaches and is creating his own coaching path, with which he has proven to develop strong player relationships.

18/1 Girls – Greg Jeffers

Learning and developing as a young person through the EDJBA, Greg has now coached VJBL for over 20 years across U12-U18 in boys and girls having won Victorian Championship and National Junior Classic titles. In 2010, he was Australia’s representative as Coach of the FIBA World Youth Camp in Istanbul and coached our State Championship Women’s team when they won the title in 2011, whilst also leading our Youth Championship Men from  2013-2016 & in 2018.

The team will work closely with both NBL1 and Youth (U23) teams providing players the opportunity to train and play at these levels, so players get exposure to the Senior levels, whilst focussing in the VJBL competition.

18/1 Boys – Craig Stratford

The point guard from Mt Gambier is one of Victoria’s best coaches and is currently the U18 Boys Victoria Metro Head Coach. Since joining us as a Dad because his young kids were starting to play, Craig has taken to coaching seamlessly. His teams have won back to back U14 Boys National Championships, taking one of them to the Jr NBA World Championships the following year and the other to a tournament in Japan. In the second year of the Jr NBA Global Championships (2019), he was selected by the NBA to coach the Asia-Oceania team, coaching children from across the region. To this day, Craig’s team remains the only male or female international team to defeat an American team at that event!

Craig also coached our Youth Championship Men in 2019, something that will continue in 2021 as he like the girls, assists the players in transitioning to the senior level. We have no doubt that Craig’s team players will have a terrific experience under his leadership