March 9, 2024 | Perth Lynx news

Nat Burton spent a lot of her WNBL playing career trying to help the Perth Lynx back to glory and it would mean the world to her to do it now as an assistant coach, but she’s focused on helping plot the downfall of Lauren Jackson and the Southside Flyers.

Burton went through quite the journey in her own playing career at the Lynx and that included some years down in the doldrums when even being competitive as a franchise was a struggle.

There was always the history there dating back to the championship team of 1992, but it did appear a long way off especially during the West Coast Waves years. But since returning to being the Lynx and for the most part, it’s been a club contending for championships.

Now reaching this season’s Grand Final means it’s a third appearance in the last nine WNBL seasons where the Lynx will be one of the final two teams.

While Burton has dared to dream what a championship would mean, she quickly snaps back to the reality of the job at hand.

“Championships are what we all play for and when you’re in the season, that’s the big goal. In the big picture there’s a lot more to sport than just that, but when you’re right in it then that’s what we are all aiming for,” Burton said.

“For this club to have such a history of success and then battle to get back in the league, and then have so long of really struggling, and myself being part of those years, and now the more recent years of the Lynx after being rebranded and to now be on the coaching staff, it would be amazing to finally get that thing that everyone’s been aiming for for so long.

“It would be really weird for me personally to do it as a coach rather than a player, but I would take it and I would be happy for the girls and the other coaches, and everyone who’s been waiting for one if we can pull it off. I think about that but then very quickly come back to what we need to do and the battle that it will be.”

Preparing for the challenge of LJ

Burton spent her playing career as a national teammate of Lauren Jackson while spending plenty of time also playing against her with the pair two of the country’s best bigs, and all-round players, along the way.

That’s what makes it such a strange experience now for Burton to be preparing the current Lynx bigs led by Emily Potter to go into battle against Jackson who is fresh off her match-winning 38-point, 11-rebound performance in Game 3 of the semi finals for the Flyers against the Melbourne Boomers.

However, it does provide Burton the chance to dig back into what she tried to do against Jackson herself to help the current Lynx players while still taking a step back to marvel at what Australian’s greatest basketballer continues to do.

“As it is with every game, it’s just about making little tweaks here and there, and trying to help the post players in particular make use of what they already have,” Burton said.

“They’re incredibly talented and now we do come up against Lauren Jackson, and we look at what we can do to impact her in the best way possible to our advantage. I try to look at it like that and it’s just tiny little things I’ll sprinkle into the big workouts during the weeks.

“I have found myself kind of looking back to when I played her last and what it was like, and what little things I tried to do to have an impact. But no matter what, she’s a fantastic, incredible legend of a player so it’s going to be really tough and I’m actually really excited to see how we go.

“It’s a challenge and three weeks ago we didn’t know we would even be here, but we are and we’re trying to ride the wave we’ve been riding of everyone coming together and playing really good basketball no matter who we’re playing.”

Feeling about team reaching the Grand Final

Anyone associated with the Lynx deserved to be tremendously proud of the performance to reach the Grand Final this WNBL season given they had to shake off a run of losing seven of eight games and to slip to sixth position with two rounds remaining.

To have now strung together four brilliant performances to get to the Grand Final and to be two wins from a drought breaking championship is something to be proud of, and Burton certainly is.

“It’s been really interesting because as I’m learning as coach, I’m used to being able to go out on the floor and playing and doing it but as a coach you’re a step removed from that,” she said.

“You can come up with the game plan and the scout, and you can have conversations with athletes to help them be their best out on the court.

“But at the end of the day it comes down to who shows up when it comes time to play. This group did show up when it mattered in Bendigo and then in Townsville, and then when we came home.

“That’s amazing and it’s a great feeling because although sometimes it feels completely out of your control as a coach, to see the playing group actually step up and do that is really exciting. It does kind of make you feel quite proud of the little part you played in it.”

Dealing with rollercoaster ride of a season

It’s been quite the ride this WNBL season for the Lynx with things starting off tremendously as they won eight of the first 11 games to be knocking on the door of top spot in the league just after Christmas.

Things then got decidedly more challenging with superstar point guard Aari McDonald injuring her knee on December 27, and as a result the Lynx would go on to lose seven of the next eight games.

That had them fighting for their lives following the FIBA break just to reach the finals, but they won those last two games over the Capitals and Spirit, then things fell their way with Townsville beating Sydney, and things were clicking.

With McDonald back and firing, Perth beat the defending champion Fire in two games of the semi finals and now prepare for the Grand Final against the Flyers with Burton seeing the team full of confidence.

“You can’t really try to control that end result, that’s out of our control so we really just tried to look at what we could do,” Burton said.

“So we just accepted we didn’t have Aari and focused on what we did have, and what we needed to change to best suit the playing group that we have in front of us right now.

“That time felt really messy and like we had zero control and we didn’t know if it was going to work, and all of that stuff, but somehow we found ourselves on the other side of it.

“Obviously adding Aari back in changed the way we play completely and it felt like we were that team again, but she couldn’t have had that impact if we didn’t have everyone else doing what they were doing.

“It’s obvious that she’s made this huge, incredible impact and is a huge part of why we are playing like this, but she also knows without the rest of the playing group pushing through and battling through even when it felt like it wasn’t going to work, she wouldn’t have had a team to come back into,” she added.

“We wouldn’t be playing where we are now without everyone else staying together so I think that’s really good for Aari to feel but also for the rest of the team because it looks like everyone has really come together.”

Connection within the coaching staff

Burton has gone straight from her own glittering playing career as a professional into coaching with the Lynx while still mixing that with being a key player in the NBL1 West competition in the off-season at the Warwick Senators.

She couldn’t ask for a better place to start her coaching journey than her hometown team and to also have Ryan Petrik as head coach, and to be assistant alongside Robbins who is now also her NBL1 coach as of this year at the Senators.

“We just work really well together and it’s my first experience coaching so I don’t know if I’ve just been really lucky with this because I don’t know how else it would be apart from what I saw when I was a player,” Burton said.

“My experience with Ryan when I was a player and he was an assistant coach helps because we have that history together. He has been really clear that he has Brad and I on staff for our playing experience as much as our coaching because he didn’t play at the top level like we did.

“So he wants us to be able to go to him and tell him yes or no, should we do this or that, and he will take it and then as the head coach it’s his choice whether he uses or not.

“But he is quite open to that and after three years of working with him, Brad and I know what he wants to hear and what he’s willing to move on with his own beliefs and tactics so I think by now we work really well together.

“It’s been enjoyable for me to learn as a coach to start this part of my career in this environment.”