Waratah Basketball League: Port Macquarie Dolphins head west to face Tamworth Thunderbolts

PORT Macquarie Dolphins have had a fortnight to stew on their 11-point loss to Coffs Harbour.

Key withdrawal: Port Macquarie Dolphin Nelson Lee drives to the basket during their opening-round loss to Coffs Harbour: Photo: Ivan Sajko

Key withdrawal: Port Macquarie Dolphin Nelson Lee drives to the basket during their opening-round loss to Coffs Harbour: Photo: Ivan Sajko

Their Waratah Basketball League Division One campaign doesn’t get any easier this Saturday when they clash with Tamworth Thunderbolts.

The trip west over the mountain is one which has brought many teams undone in previous years.

Coach Mark Champion refuses to use the three-hour trip as an excuse, but does know the challenge the Dolphins are about to face.

“Over the last three or four years Tamworth have had a 30-point home court advantage for some reason,” he said.

“There is no doubt it is a tough place to go.”

Champion simply puts it down to a mental battle other Dolphins teams have lost.

“In previous years we’ve gone to Tamworth thinking they’re better than us even before we’ve walked out onto the court,” he said.

“While we do have a history of not playing well there, we want to take a positive mindset that we’re a lot better this year than we were last year.”

The hostile home-court atmosphere generated inside the Tamworth Sports Dome is one Champion wants to create in Port Macquarie.

In previous years we’ve gone to Tamworth thinking they’re better than us even before we’ve walked out onto the court.

Mark Champion

“They have the best home-crowd advantage in the state league with the way they have their stadium set up,” he said.

“They have a show court there, but it’s on the other side of a wall, so it keeps all the noise in.

“We know it’s going to be tough, but we have to have some sort of composure.”

The absence of Shaun Tarrant and Nelson Lee poses another challenge for Champion’s men.

He was encouraged by what he saw in the first round and knows to be in the semi-final mix they need to work on consistency.

“We want to do more of what we did in the first quarter against Coffs Harbour when we led,” he said.

How the Dolphins react throughout the year when momentum shifts away from them will say a lot about how far they have come in 12 months.

“Part of our problem last year was that when we were up by 20 points we were great,” Champion said.

“But when things started going against us we couldn’t turn it around and the heads dropped.

“60 per cent of our team are 21 or younger so coping with momentum shifts are things you’ve got to learn along the way.”

Saturday’s match tips off at 6pm in Tamworth.