- National Teams
Heading into the locker-room at half-time, on the final day of the BBL regular season with his side’s Playoff fate hanging by a thread, Plymouth Raiders’ player-coach Daryl Corletto could not resist finding out how Leeds Force were getting on in their crucial encounter some 200 miles away.
“It was difficult not to check,” Corletto recalled. “I saw that the score was 68-all with around 17 seconds left, but I kept it from the players.”
Yet, by the time he headed out for the second half with his players, Leeds had completed a 72-68 victory against Surrey Scorchers and Corletto’s hopes of inspiring the club’s return to the post-season were dashed.
He added: “The guys all knew the result by the end of the third quarter but showed a lot of character to come out and get the win.”
Plymouth’s 84-76 victory against Sheffield Sharks was not enough to prevent a run of three years without making the BBL Playoffs. The result was bittersweet and could not mask the disappointment as another campaign that included controversial incidents on and off the court, ended prematurely.
“It’s been crazy,” admitted Corletto. “I could never have imagined it was possible to go through all that we have in one season.
“From day one until the final day, it was a rollercoaster of emotions.
“I do believe, though, that a lot has been learnt; the club has learnt a lot, and me personally too.”
Corletto arrived in the BBL last summer with a strong pedigree as a four-time NBL champion in Australia and New Zealand. Just three games – all defeats – into the league campaign and things in Devon were set for a drastic change.
Former player turned Head Coach, Jay Marriott, resigned just a month into his third season at the helm and Plymouth were quick to act by offering Corletto the role in charge as player-coach.
“It was kind of dropped on me,” the 34-year-old recalled. “I was thrown into the deep end, but I would have never said no because I always want to win.
“I remember first being told about it on a Wednesday and then less than 12 hours later, I was taking a team session.
“It’s definitely something that I am glad that I have done now.”
Perhaps expectedly, it was a tough transition for the Melbourne native and from being unfamiliar to the league, Corletto quickly needed to become accustomed with its players with a whole new task on his hands.
The role, he admits, impacted his playing production, but the Australian-British guard would go on to become the BBL’s leading points scorer with 634 points in 32 games, whilst enduring a hefty workload consisting of 39.6 minutes logged per game.
“It was certainly tough [combing the two roles],” he declared. “At first, I was just able to play my role and be aggressive, but then an adjustment was needed when I took over the coaching role.
“I didn’t know the BBL that well, I didn’t know the players so I spent hours looking at film and it took a while to adjust.
“For a while, I was not playing my usual game and was worrying about others, but from around November, I began to focus more on my own play and was able to go back to being aggressive.
“It’s something that became easier as the season went on – and it’s made even easier when you have a group of guys who believe in what you are about.
“Playing in a new league and having gone through everything this season, to be the leading scorer is something I can be proud of, but I’d definitely trade it for a playoff place.”
In recent years, the club has developed a reputation for its high player turnover, and while it was something Corletto was aware of, he feels the perception is exaggerated – now that he has gone through his own experiences this season.
Bennie Lewis, Auryn MacMillan, Richie Edwards, BJ Anthony, Josh Wilcher, Dante Williams and Dino Butorac all came and went this season, albeit for varying reasons.
“Plymouth has a history of having a revolving door and cutting players, but seeing it first-hand, it’s been different,” Corletto stated.
“I’m never one for excuses, but we literally had to hit the reset button five or six times this season.
“Out of seven players, the club only released two – Bennie and then Auryn, who made way for Cory Dixon.
“Two guys had off-court issues and left us no choice; we didn’t want Josh to leave then Dante injured his knee and Dino’s situation was out of our control.”
Then there was the on-court drama. Emotions spewed over following their BBL Trophy encounter against NBL D1 side Essex Leopards, while Cory Dixon was also involved in an altercation with Stefan Gil in Manchester, resulting in the first of two ejections.
Those are the incidents that spring to mind when Corletto is asked about any possible regrets, and whilst condemning some of Dixon’s actions, he also defended the American’s nature.
“Yeah, look – a couple of things were out of our control, but some things could have been handled differently,” he admitted.
“The incident down at Essex with Jason Carr taking the last shot caused a bit of a scuffle.
“It took the attention off our team for a couple of weeks and the club and myself took some bad rap for that, but these things happen.
“Cory Dixon also had a couple of incidents and was spoken to about those, but he has a bit of white-line fever and is really competitive – those are the guys you want on your team; the ones who are ready to go to battle with you.”
The biggest regret, however, is not making the playoffs.
A top-eight spot was in the Raiders’ grasp after a mid-season revival and for someone with a proven track record of going deep into a season, having won multiple titles with Melbourne Tigers and New Zealand Breakers, falling short was particularly hard to take for Corletto.
While ultimately, Plymouth simply didn’t win enough games, Corletto feels that their failure to beat the teams that finished below them proved costly and also highlighted the loss of Butorac as a turning point for the team in the final stretch.
After Wilcher’s exit, the Raiders brought in the Croatian guard ahead of the BBL’s deadline only for a visa issue to come to light a few games into his spell, which would curtail his time at the club.
“That really broke the group,” Corletto said. “A lot of fight went out of the team after that happened in my opinion.
“Dino was a player who we planned on having a major role in leading us into the playoffs and to find out he couldn’t play for us anymore was tough.
“However, it’s still very frustrating and upsetting that we didn’t see it through after we put ourselves in a great position.
“We lost a lot of games that we were meant to win; losing three times against Manchester, losing to Surrey and Bristol beat us twice, too
“You have to protect home court, and win the games you are expected to – which will set you up for a playoff run.”
Attention now switches to next season with the early finish to this campaign allowing the Raiders to start focusing on putting things right in 2016-17. And, Corletto believes the key is recruitment, although there is nothing concrete regarding his own future at the club, for now.
“I’m still in the process of talking to the club and putting things in place,” he confirmed.
“The important thing for next season is bringing in the right players for the club.
“We’ll be looking at getting recruitment right and ready for day one – doing homework and bringing the right people in who know what we are about and the culture within the club.
“When you look at the likes of Newcastle and Leicester in the BBL, those are the successful teams that have a core group together that makes them pretty hard to beat.
“It’s very important to get it right – we are going to be sending out letters of agreement to some players soon and start piecing things together.
“The first game is just as important as the last and we need to make sure we are ready for that.”
Corletto also revealed an alternative motive for joining the BBL with the chance of testing himself against top British talent. He averaged 19.8 points per game with seven 25+ games during the regular season, whilst leading the league in free throws with an impressive 93% success rate after converting 106-of-114.
With his mother born in England, and father in Scotland, Corletto has always had a British passport and has come close to representing GB in the past.
In 2009, he made an initial 24-man squad for EuroBasket and was also invited to a pre-2012 Olympic training camp although it clashed with the middle of the NBL Finals, in Australia.
“It’s something I’ve thought about a lot,” he said on the chance of playing for GB. “I would love to hear from someone.
“Part of the reason I came over here to play in the BBL was to see how I compared to the British guys.
“I’m confident that I could play a role if required.”