Loughton’s eyes always on team goals
After his Far North farewell last week, retiring Cairns Taipans champion Alex Loughton officially hangs up the boots this weekend. The larrikin power forward gives Jordan Gerrans an insight into his mindset across his career, family life and what his life looks like after hoops.
Al, you are retiring on your own terms while you are still contributing to the team, which is something many athletes cannot say. That must be nice?
Not many players get the chance to retire on their own terms. I feel mentally and physically ready to retire here in Cairns. I am not in a position to move my family to somewhere else in Australia for one or two more years, maybe, of basketball, if it came to that. But, I have looked at the pros and cons - my best playing days are behind me and I feel settled that it is time for me to hang up my boots. I am happy to make the decision and take ownership of it now. Hopefully, I can enjoy these last few games.
Almost a decade as a Cairns Taipan, you must be proud to end your career here, especially after all you have achieved?
To look back and see what I have produced at the club, I feel proud that I can finish up here. My career will linger on here a bit seeing as I have been here for so long. It is an extension of my brand personally to have a quality contribution to the team and the way I conduct myself personally. I think that will carry over into the business world as well and hopefully it gives me a leg up into the next phase of my life.
The plan is to stay in Cairns with your family post-basketball?
The kids are settled with school, one of them is off to high school next year, and the wife has a good job in town too. That was a big part of it. We feel like Cairns is a great place to be, in the short term, well for the first five years or so post basketball for me anyway. We have not looked too long term yet but Perth and Darwin is where the family is. I feel like Cairns has been home for a while now. We are keen to set up here in Cairns and put some roots down for the next phase. The city is small but it has everything you need. For now, Cairns is home.
You have been working behind the scenes for a couple of years to develop your post-basketball career in the media world, can you tell me a little bit more about it?
I have my videography side business, which is called Power Forward Media. I have been able to do some work during the season for the Taipans and in the off-season for businesses around Cairns. There has been a lot of different interests and I have found some good results already. They are one to five minute videos for social media. I can focus on people, or their business, and hopefully be an extension of their brand. A lot of people are looking for video content these days. However, I am keen to keep an open mind because there could be different things that contribute to the business side of what I do after basketball. There have been a bit of talk about keeping me included at the Taipans as part of the club in some capacity. It could be a connection with past players at the club. I would like to stay involved in some capacity. I am keen to let the dust settle and then make a decision going forward about what I will do.
How much do you feel your Tropic Zone videos helped the fans of the club connect with the players?
It served a few purposes. I wanted to expose a few of the players personalities and the fans enjoyed getting an insight into that side of things. It is good to see that the guys are real people and like to have a laugh - you get to know the players more intimately. The filming and editing side of it is my vice. I enjoy creatively putting something like that together. It has been a hobby for me, until now. I can now hopefully make it a real job. It was cool to film and use as a platform. It was great to build up my own skill set as well as to have a purpose. It is important for me when you have to deal with the stress and pressures of playing basketball. It really was a good outlet.
What has the transition from Aaron Fearne to Mike Kelly been like?
There was a bit of uncertainty in my mind because I was thinking that I needed to be the one carrying over the culture and that stuff from last season to this. I knew I could not put that pressure on myself but I did carry it through the year a little bit. I felt like it was on me to help steer the thing. We just could not get any momentum through the year. We hit the losing streak and maybe the first win in Round 1 was a poisoned chalice. If we lose that game, we are hungry as hell for every home game after that and we did not have any false view of how we are going. It has been a frustrating year. But, I am looking at it from a bigger picture and I am hoping to see little improvements along the way. I have had four brand new coaches in my pro career and I know it takes years for them to get to how they want to coach and their team looks like they want it to do. Mike was really open and said he wanted to play a lot of pre-season to get his mistakes out. Mike has learnt a lot this year and it is about setting benchmarks about what he wants. From my experiences, that usually takes coaches years to get to there. You have to be prepared to go the long haul as a club if you want to get to where you want to be. Mike will get there. I believe in the evolution of him as a coach, he has the people skills. He is learning the discipline side of things, which is the polar opposite of Fearney.
Being around the team the last few years, it looked like you and Fearney had a close relationship, despite being two very different people. What was it like playing under him for eight seasons?
My career has had a theme of sticking with the process. A few things in college did not go as I expected but I stuck with it and it worked out. That came from my Dad, things like perseverance and determination. Fearney is a different cat and a really interesting individual. He was so focused on the discipline, repetition to the point of boredom to get stuff done. He does not have the skill set on the people side of things but I could see there was certain talents that Fearney had that a lot of people do not have. There was some frustrating times no doubt and I think Fearney knew there was that disconnect with the people side of things. He knew where he was limited. It was a working relationship. I did not need to go to him for encouragement. Sometimes on the surface it was hard for players to relate to him but I was able to say, this is what he means.
What was it like to run out with your kids at your final game?
It was great to be with the kids out there. They were in tears after the game, I went to go say hi and they were gone, they were crying, maybe they were just overwhelmed with emotion. It was cool to see, great to share with my wife Michelle.
You mentioned the influence your old man had on you. Did your Dad play hoops like you?
He played socially but he has been about discipline and always looked at the bigger picture. I would use the word wise about him. He had the wisdom in his youth and passed it on to me. He has always been positive and been outgoing, he rallies the teams and groups he works with as an architect. Both my mum and dad have been very supportive of me. I have missed a whole lot of family events over the last two decades but hopefully I can make up for it over the next few years.
How did you see your final game in Cairns? It must have been a special way to go out?
I just enjoyed the moment. I felt I was doing some things out there, I was just trying to be "Loughzy" out there, I felt good. Coach put me in late in the game and I was able to get it done. It was a great way to finish. One last fist-pump for the fans. One for the ages. It was a great way to finish my time in Cairns. I felt I was doing some things.
In the first grand final run, you struggled with osteitis pubis that bad that most other players would have had to sit out. I was told the coaching group was so impressed with the way you battled through it for the betterment of the team. What are your memories of that?
I could not explode or push off, I could only really coast into my movement. It happened in Round 5 against the Wildcats. It was a monster of a thing to work through. I could have taken the 12 weeks off then and there, which puts me out for most of the season. I really liked the group we had and felt we could get it together. I missed a few games and in Wollongong late in the year, it was touch and go and I had to do a fitness test. I kept telling Fearney it felt good but he was not sure. We then had a massive win, I hit a couple of three's and that game set up a few wins at the end of the season. We went six or seven wins in a row from there to finish third with a losing record. The mindset was get through the season but we kept winning through the finals. The pain was ramping up just as our season was ramping up. It was debilitating because I could not do what I wanted to do. Looking back, I am proud I pushed through, even though it cost me my off-season and some of my next season. It was my hardest year physically.
ALEX LOUGHTON FACTFILE
■ Second most games ever for the Cairns Taipans - behind Aaron Grabau.
■ He was the 2017-18 season Cairns Taipans Member's Choice MVP, also taking out the Player's Player Award and Coaches Award.
■ Represented the Australian Boomers against the then world No. 1 Argentina in a 97-58 thrashing in Perth in 2010.
■ The Cairns captain featured for the NBL All-Australian team to tour China in 2018.
■ Played for Aguas Gandia, Perth Wildcats, Ourense Baloncesto and Cairns Taipans across his professional career, which started in 2006.
■ Played college basketball for Old Dominion University. As a junior in 2004-05, named CAA Player of the Year. In October 2009, named in the CAA's 25th Anniversary Team.