Coming off a strong first year as Concordia Head Coach, Stingers Rastko Popovic has wasted little time upgrading the talent level with his group. Last season’s club continued to show improvement guarding – Stingers were arguably the top defensive team in the Q this side of McGill – however, outside of a couple of games, Concordia struggled with perimeter shooting and, despite the offensive emergence of 6’4″ all-conference wing Ken Beaulieu, did not have multiple go-to offensive threats. Beaulieu had some injury problems in the second half and Stingers tried to rely on freshman 6’4″ Schneiders Suffrard to fix the void/complement Beaulieu, with mixed results. Thus, Popovic – in what is his first full recruiting class since taking over the reigns of the program around this time last year – has focused his efforts on find more scoring and perimeter shooting with apparent strong results. Stingers most accomplished recruit is very likely 6’7″ Olivier Simon (Edouard-Monpetit) who averaged 16.5 ppg/9.5 rpg in CEGEP last season as an inside/out “stretch 4″ type threat. Expect Simon help stretch defenses and check longer, taller wing forwards. To add some perimeter shooting, 6’2” Nicholas Noble (Champlain-St. Lambert) is being brought in; he comes from the same program as now-fellow Stinger T.J. Umar. In 6’3″ Rowan Power (Dartmouth, NS/Nova Scotia Provincial team) Concordia gets another strong hard-core defender type. With a strong roster of potential returnees led by Beaulieu, Suffrards, Umar, 6’5″ Michael Fosu, 6’0″ pg Ricardo Monge and 6’3″ Jaleel Webb, Popovic is poised to return the Stingers to RSEQ championship contention… Many observers were very impressed with the progress of UQAM Citadins under first-year Head Coach Nate Phillipe, who guided his troops to the RSEQ championship game after a solid semi-final win vs. aforementioned Stingers. While Citadins had RSEQ Player-of-the-Year Kewyn Blain, a CIS All-Canadian, running the show as a scoring point guard, UQAM also improved their play inside led by 6’11” rim-protector Yassin Debache and got streaky offense from veteran 6’2″ lefty Greishe Clerjuste. Phillipe also showed some coaching courage in dismissing a pair of high-potential, highly-hyped players at mid-season – a bold move for a first-year coach trying to establish a winning tradition – and the move paid off with UQAM’s finish, although 5’11” Charles Miller and 6’4″ Julien Girard, added after the first half, were helpful triggers. Citadins have already announced a pair of helpful recruits for next season in 6’3″ Alex King-Lacroix, who averaged over 30 ppg at Limoilou, a Tier II CEGEP in Quebec City and 6’9″ Stefan Mitrovic from CEGEP Ste. Foy also in Quebec City. Phillipe’s work has laid a solid foundation for the Citadins as the “Q” continues to improve. However, with other Canadian coaching jobs available both CIS and NCAA DII, and Citadins coaching compensation package among the lowest in the country, it would not be difficult to envision Phillipe, especially with a young family, to have his career aspirations drift to other positions. With the resignation of Matt Skinn at Cape Breton, a position is available in Atlantic Canada; recall Phillipe played his university ball at Saint Mary’s and his wife is an Atlantic Canada native. One would not blame Phillipe one bit if the thought of taking that position has crossed his mind… Laval Rouge et Or got some good news toward the end of the RSEQ season as it appears that star 6’1″ point guard Karl Demers-Belanger will return for his fifth and final season of eligibility. Rouge et Or are set to lose only 6’5″ Thibaud Dezutter from last season’s club that arguably presented league champion McGill with their most difficult games. As well, Laval has filled a tremendous void in the middle with the transfer home of 6’9″ Mark Andre Fortin, who played last season as a true freshman at NCAA Division 1 Sam Houston State, averaging 6.6 mpg with the Bearkats. Fortin was a 2nd team CEGEP all-star in 2014-15 before accepting a D1 scholarship. His inside presence should provide some rim protection that was decidedly lacking with Rouge et Or last season – their tallest player was just 6’6″; expect Fortin to change the dynamic inside defensively for Laval… This past season Bishop’s brought in a large, eight-man, quality recruiting class that Coach Rod Gilpin hopes will form the foundation of another future run at an RSEQ title. With reigning RSEQ Freshman of the Year 6’5′ Abdul Kamane, 6’6″ Nick Harvey, 7’0″ Jonah Fogg and at least 5 other CIS calibre players, the stage is set for last year’s class to grow. There are a couple of starters with experience in 6’6″ David Belanger, who suffered through an injury plagued season, and 6’3 sharpshooter Peter Weston and the staff is still waiting on whether or not 6’0″ Jona Bermillo, the team MVP will complete his fifth season of eligibility with the Gaiters. Expect Gilpin to sign at least one more shooter with the local CEGEP a targeted source for that resource… The rest of the country found out quickly at last month’s Nationals in Vancouver what the folks in Atlantic Canada have known for at least a couple of years: the Dalhousie Tigers program is for real. Led by Head Coach Rick Plato, who inherited a strong, young stable of athletes from John Campbell three years ago, has taken that foundation (Ritchie Kanza-Mata, Kash Lawrence, Jarred Reid, William Yengue – all of who were Campbell’s recruits) and continued to grow a deep, quality, defensive-oriented group that scraps and claws on every possession and did the AUS proud with the conference’s first championship round win at the CIS Nationals since 2013 when Acadia defeated UBC. Plato has done an outstanding job surrounding his experienced core group with quality depth and as the remaining Big 3 (Kanza-Mata, Lawrence and Reid) enter their fifth and final season, Tigers can rest assured that another strong group of emerging talents will take the reigns. With 6’1″ Jordan Aquino-Serjue capturing AUS Rookie-of-the-Year and 6’6″ Sven Stammberger developing into an AUS-all-star calibre wing forward, Plato took the next step in recruiting, bringing in a national-calibre local star who is touted to become the next great player in the AUS: 6’6″ Alex Carson from Sackville, who led the Nova Scotia provincial team to a historic win over Team Ontario at last summer’s Canadian championships. Expect Carson to step right in and play meaningful minutes for the two-time defending AUS champions… Despite a second consecutive AUS title and virtually their entire team expected to return next season, few believe Dal’s path to a third title will be easy, especially given the progress made last season by Tim Kendrick‘s UPEI Panthers and the stable of strong returning talent. Recall that this season’s AUS championship game was another outright classic, with Panthers taking Dal down to the final couple of possessions before the Tigers triumphed. While 6’3″ Tyler Scott, a 2nd team All-Canadian and all-conference forward 6’6″ Brad States lead the way, Panthers also got strong championship-game performances by a pair of young emerging talents in 5’10” Toronto native Amin Suleman (sophomore next season) and 6’7″ Serbian Milorad Sedlarevic, entering his third season. Sedlarevic was especially key down the stretch of the AUS championship, knocking down several clutch three’s to keep Panthers in it. 2016-17 is an important season for the Panthers as six top-end rotation players (Scott, States, 6’6″ Dut Dut, super 6’2″ sixth-man Lorenzo Parker, 6’0 guard Zach Usherwood and 6’1″ reserve shooting guard Jake Kendrick) enter their fifth and final season. With one eye to the future, Coach Kendrick and the Panthers recently announced the signing of 6’0″ point guard Kyle Rotterman from famed Ontario high school program Burlington Nelson Lords. Rotterman was ranked #101 in the Class of 2015 by our friends at North Pole Hoops. Recall also that Panthers got a commitment last year from 6’0″ sg Samy Mohamed (Toronto, ON – transfer/Algoma; 4.2 ppg in 2014-15). Not unlike the RSEQ, the level of talent in the AUS is improving rapidly top-to-bottom and expect UPEI to be in the thick of the AUS championship battle all season in 2016-17.