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Duop Reath lauds Brian Goorjian for Illawarra Hawks' late-season run of form

Just a few short weeks ago, the Illawarra Hawks were on the ropes.

Despite holding one of the most individually talented rosters in the NBL, the Hawks continued to falter on both ends of the floor. In addition to the inconsistency, they faced a gauntlet schedule on the road to the postseason.

Rather than fold, the Hawks have rattled off five straight wins, including two on the road against ladder leaders Melbourne United.

"We knew it was going to be tough, especially with the position we were in. I feel like the coaching staff and players put a great deal of focus on trying to take care of business each game," star big man Duop Reath told ESPN.

Along with Reath, the Hawks loaded up in the offseason, adding imports Antonius Cleveland and Xavier Rathan-Mayes to an already stacked roster.

"It took us a little bit longer to gel. I don't think anybody in our club had any doubts of what we were capable of doing. In the locker room, we were in the right headspace so we knew the outcome would be better, we just had to go through the process.

"[Coach Brian Goorjian] was a major part of it, he can see what the atmosphere of the locker room is and makes sure everyone is in the right headspace. He's the leader of our team."

Prior to the hot stretch, the Hawks were 11-8 on the season, with scintillating offensive performances mixed in with outings where each player took turns in playing isolation basketball. Languishing near the bottom of the league in assist percentage throughout the season, the Hawks could score, but the challenge was integrating a team-based offence rather than leaning on the individual scoring ability of each player.

"We had to work on it. Coach has been emphasising ball movement all season, we just have to keep it moving. It took us a while to understand what he meant by that. All of us play better and are much happier when the ball is moving.

"Getting the ball from side to side makes the offence much easier. We have great talent, anybody can shoot the ball on the first pass, and you might feel like it's a good shot, but after a while you understand you can move the defence, give yourself a better chance at offensive rebounds, gets them into rotations."

Reath is one of the players who can source his own offence, with an ability to shoot off-the-dribble, work in the post and space the floor in a silky skillset for a 6'11" big man. Averaging 14.4 points per night, the 25-year-old admits he is still wrapping his head around a more prominent role on offence to what he was presented with at his most recent stop at Serbian club Cryena Zyezda.

"I came into a different role from what I've been playing professionally over the last three years. It took some adjusting, coach told me it would take some time, there would be some ups and downs, but I feel like I've learned a lot this season. I feel like I'm just going to keep getting better"

"Playing in Europe, it's different. I was more of a space the floor, bring energy, whereas here it's a bigger role. I'm enjoying it, just being able to play that way and learn from my mistakes and help the team win."

A free agent in the offseason, Reath isn't looking ahead, though his decision to return to Australian hardwood for the first time since before college was strengthened from his time with the Australian Olympic team last offseason.

"Australia has always been on the back of my mind, to go back home. I've been following the league since I was in college, seeing how it's been progressing, it's a strong league. I felt like it was perfect timing to try and get back to the NBL and see what I can do as a player.

"Meeting Goorj was great to, seeing what kind of person he is and what kind of coach he is. Talking to the players that played in the NBL, the things they said about the league was big too, they said nothing but good things, so it was a no brainer."

Goorjian, Reath, and the Hawks have to handle their business on the road to the playoffs, with two meetings against the white-hot Sydney Kings and a trip to Perth still left to come.

But for a regular season looking shaky a mere few rounds ago, one of the preseason fancies now feels like they are on the right track.

"I'm happy how we've come out of that little dip that we had, that's what makes a good team, coming through adversity."