The hard calls were made by the Altona Gators with an eye on the future.
The Gators promoted youth to the starting line up in the latter rounds of the Big V basketball men’s division 2 season and farewelled two of their more experienced players in the process, including veteran Justin Eckhardt.
“Justin was a really important part of the team for the past two years,” Gators coach Des Radoslovic said.
“He’s been our leading scorer, but he’s 34 years old now and getting towards the end, and he also had an internal club suspension.
“I thought at the time, regardless of the suspension, it’s probably best if we call it a day for his season and it gives the younger guys an opportunity to play heavier minutes.
“He carried the team through some tough times over the past year and a half, but now the young guys are ready to take his place, so the timing was just right.”
The other player to exit Altona was recruit Aron Pantano. Injuries and poor form hampered his short stay with the Gators.
“He probably didn’t deliver what we expected and stepped aside about six weeks before the end of the season,” Radoslovic said. “His role was reducing in the team as the young guys were stepping up and overtaking him.”
Amid the changes, Altona unearthed its potential back court for next season. Nathanael Coory did not look out of place as the Gators starting point guard, while Jeremy Edwards showed his talents at shooting guard.
“They’ve turned into key players for us down the stretch,” Radoslovic said. “Those guys are both matching it with the opposition’s best players.”
Coory belied his youth, running the show with aplomb from the point. He is just 16, but has a wise head on his shoulders.
“He’s exactly what you want your point guard to be,” Radoslovic said. “He’s very safe with the ball, he does his job and he’s very smart.”
Coory is also smart academically, which could shorten his time at Altona. He recently trialled at Princeton and Penn universities in the US with a view of landing a scholarship.
“He got invited to some talent identification camps at Ivy League division 1 schools. He went quite well in those and he’s grown in confidence since,” Radoslovic said.
In the past 10 games of the season, Edwards has reached double figures in points on seven occasions. His long range shooting was lethal, including five three-pointers in the final round, equalling his best for the season.
“At the start of the season, he was down the end of the bench because it was his rookie season, but by the end of it he’s playing heavy minutes and he’s a starter,” Radoslovic said.
The other player with an exciting future is centre James Till. He produced his best performance – a monster double-double of 25 points and 17 rebounds – in a penultimate round win over finals-bound Wallan Panthers.
“He’s another one of our young and developing players,” Radoslovic said.
“He’s our six-foot-seven big man and only in his second year of representative basketball.”
Radoslovic is keen to continue working with the young talent at Altona and will meet with the club to discuss a contract for next season.