Plenty to catch-up on as the sands of time apparently move quicker when there are more out of the bottle than are remaining. We are about a week and a half away from the first meaningful weekend of the 2016-17 CIS season and at first glance there appears to be much more inter-conference play scheduled that at any time in recent memory. On the first full weekend alone (beginning Sept 29th), no less than 15 CIS teams will meet at four different tournaments scattered across the country at UVic, Acadia, UNB and Nipissing – we plan to have more on these and other tournaments as the lid-lifters draw nearer.. New Laurier Head Coach Justin Serresse was dealt an early blow when last season’s top freshman 6’1″ point guard Simon Mikre (Toronto Crescent School), an up-and-coming talent, decided to not play basketball this season to focus on his studies. Serresse has instituted a program that demands much more commitment than daily practice and Mikre, a product of one of the top academic high schools in the country, has decided to put his main efforts into obtaining his Business degree… Ryerson Coach Roy Rana, who did such a great job getting our U-19 team to the FIBA Americas championship game after coming off a one-year sabbatical, passed along this link to what looks like a wonderful event: the screening of a documentary on Eastern Commerce basketball . Proceeds from the event will be earmarked for a charity. Eastern has produced numerous NCAA and CIS stars and Coach Rana, who took over the Rams program in 2009, has Ryerson annual among the top 3-4 teams in the country. The past two seasons have seen stars Jamaal Jones and Aaron Best land professional placements in Europe and this season’s Rams recruiting class is again among the finest in the country. We hope to have a more in-depth look at the defending Wilson Cup champions, who have seen last season’s interim Head Coach Patrick Tatham land a role on the coaching staff of an NBA D-League team… Long-time friend Joe Babic of Broadway/McMaster fame circa early 80’s is doing tremendous work with his Back to Basics fundamental shooting instruction. Testamonials come from several CIS stars including uOttawa’s Caleb Agada and former Oakville Loyola Head Coach Gary Laurin, who has produced numerous CIS stars. Joe takes a unique approach to teaching what is among the most under-appreciated but important aspects of the game. In one of the video clips, Joe makes – if remember correctly – 99 out of 100 free throws at the tender age of mid-50-something. He can teach the “j”. We now eagerly await his follow up instructions on passing and playing defense. Note that Joe’s son Jake is entering his third season at Appalacian State in Boone, N.C… For those fans in southwestern Ontario, Coach Chris Oliver has passed along a note on another exciting event in the Windsor community: Hoops for Hospice: “THE GREAT WINDSOR BASKETBALL REUNION”, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016 at the Giovanni Caboto Club. The event will be the official book launch for BASKETBALL RULES HERE Written by Bob Turner & a team of Windsor Basketball Gurus… Former Alberta Golden Bear star Kenny Otieno will play professionally this season in the Spanish third division for a club called LEB Silver, which plays in a town called Azpteia (northern Spain in the Basque Region.) The overall club is Iraugi Saski Baloia and their team is name sponsored by Sammic. The division has 16 teams and they play each one twice in the regular season which begins Oct. 1 and concludes April 22. Another CIS alumnus continuing his playing career professionally… UNB has made a nice move to upgrade their front court with the signing of 6’8″ Stephon Smith a native of New Orleans who completed high school in Dallas before playing two seasons at San Jose State with the NCAA D1 Spartans. UNB originally announced his recruitment prior to last season however Smith ended up Holland College in the ACAC, where he primarily came off the bench for the ACAA champions that lost in the first round of CCAA National tournament to eventual silver medal winning Humber Hawks. Smith started 15 games as a freshman in 2011-12 for the Spartans, averaging 3.9 points and 2.9 rebounds per game and followed that up with 2.9 ppg/16 mpg as a sophomore in 2012-13. Smith then transferred to Northwood University for 2013-14 and played for legendary Coach Rollie Massimino and the Seahawks, an NAIA program in West Palm Beach, FL. Smith played in 30 games for the Seahawks, averaging 4.8 ppg/3.0 rpg in just over 13 minutes per game. The Reds also got a late commitment from 6’5″ Tyrell Leotaud, a swingman from Orangeville’s Athlete Institute Prep. Leotaud is expected to contend for a starting position almost immediately with his outstanding athleticism.
The rest of this piece reflecting on the summer that was in the CIS/NCAA series is late coming out but better later than never. A number of new, intriguing considerations for the up-coming CIS season were uncovered during these games, not least of which is that it is now abundantly clear that our teams can compete with many NCAA D1 programs – admittedly the group of teams that came north this season was arguably the weakest of all time – regardless, this summer’s results are a strong testament to the depth of coaching, improved skills and talents of our homegrown players and, as importantly, the high level of confidence our teams now have when facing D1 teams. If/when the economics of CIS basketball as it relates to funding student/athletes changes, there will be few, if any, reasons why a marginal D1 player shouldn’t consider staying home to obtain a superior academic and basketball experience. Here are some random thoughts regarding the teams that did play games recently:
Laval… Coach Jacques Paiement Jr. has upgraded his talent level, especially in the paint with 6’9″ Marc-Andre Fortin, the transfer from Sam Houston State, who provided strong minutes in the pair of NCAA games against Arkansas Pine-Bluff (win) and Florida A&M (loss). Always an aggressive defensive group with plenty of athleticism and an RSEQ POY candidate in Alexandre Leclerc plus veteran point guard Karl Demers-Belanger poised for a big final season, Rouge et Or are likely to take that next step when they can improve their perimeter shooting – to that end they will miss graduated wing Thibaud Dezutter. Laval will also be without a key veteran this season as 6’6″ Antoine Beaumier who will take the year off to deal with a series of injuries that were never able to fully heal – he has 2 years before he graduates and he is scheduled to come back for his final season next year. Laval is at their best pushing the pace in transition and on the offensive glass and, when right, making perimeter shots. Laval was 18-57 combined (31.5%) from downtown in the two games but did have 39 offensive rebounds, showing their explosiveness.
Concordia… Entering his second season as Head Coach, young Rastko Popovic has already established himself as a strong recruiter, culminating in the arrival of Cal-State Fullerton transfer 6’8″ Malcolm Henderson who should be an immediate all-RSEQ-type forward. The Stingers now have arguably the deepest, most athletic roster in the conference, perfect for the pressure “d” the Stingers have historically played in the shoe box we all affectionately call the “Bee Hive”. While Concordia has a plethora of high end talent, an inability to make perimeter shots last season ultimately led to their early playoff exit. While the Stingers did go 2-1 vs. NCAA competition (Florida A&M, Morgan State wins; Stetson loss), ConU went only 8 for 46 from 3 in their two wins, albeit without two regulars in Schneiders Suffrard and Ken Beaulieu. Among the top recruits Popovic brought in is 6’7″ stretch-four Olivier Simon from Cégep Édouard-Montpetit.
UQAM… Another rapidly improving Quebec league program under second-year coach Nate Philippe, Citadins have the consensus best player in Quebec in all-Canadian Kewyn Blain. Blain reads the ball screen as well as any guard this side of Carleton’s and is a very creative finisher. Philippe has brought in at least 10 new recruits, clearly putting his imprint on the program and UQAM did celebrate their first-ever win over an NCAA D1 team after their 66-64 win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Philippe will continue to work with and evaluate his new recruits and how they might fit with at least 5 returning rotation players.
McGill… Point guard continues to be the focus for the defending RSEQ champions and there was hope in the Redmen camp is that Acadia transfer Sean Stoqua, who red-shirted last season at Carleton would be available for this season. Stoqua tried to work through issues related to graduate school however, while the top notch student was accepted into McGill’s to do post-grad work on the physiological affects of concussions, the application came too late vis-a-vis the funding process. Not getting Stoqua is tough, however with the emergence of 6’2″ Greg Trahan, a relatively unheralded freshman from Gatineau who was coached in CEGEP by CIS legend Osvaldo Jeanty, McGill has a plug-in combo guard who proved in the D1 games that he can be counted for important minutes at the lead guard spot. 6’1″ Jenning Leung and 6’2″ Isaiah Cummins both appear to be better suited on the wing either catching and shooting (Leung) or coming off screens/hand offs to slash (Cummins). Up front, McGill has at least 3 all-RSEQ-types in 6’8″ Frankie Bourque, 6’9″ Noah Daoust and 6’2″ Dele Ogundokun. McGill remains the most experienced and one of the deepest teams in the conference.
Carleton… What else can be said other than this program is poised to remain dominant, putting together what could be the most talented group of athletes in the history of this storied program. And that was before 6’9″ Eddie Ekiyor joined the Ravens late in the summer.
Ottawa… The Gee-Gees had a successful tour of Costa Rica which likely gave the coaching staff more confidence that sophomore Calvin Espitola can log important minutes at the point. With 6’2″ Adam Presutti scheduled to be eligible early in the pre-season, Ottawa gains an experienced veteran combo guard. The addition of 6’9″ Jean-Pierre Charles presents an intriguing potential match-up with Carleton’s 6’9″ Eddie Ekiyor – arguably the top 2 bigs in the entire country and softening the blow of losing 6’9″ Nathan McCarthy, who left after last season.
Queen’s… With 2 decisive wins against NCAA competition following up a last-second playoff loss at uOttawa last season, the Gaels are rapidly gaining the confidence of a program poised for playoff success. 6’2″ Sukh Singh is an all-conference fixture, 6’6″ Tanner Graham is an underrated athlete who shoots the open 3 and 6’5″ Harry Range is one of several potential impact newcomers to the Queen’s lineup. As with many growing teams, point guard play should dictate extent to which Gaels dominate teams they should.
Toronto… A signature win in the Bahamas against UNLV, in comeback fashion no less, is a sign that the Varsity Blues are shedding themselves of the proverbial monkey-off-their-backs with regard to losing tight games in the final possessions. Expect 6’3″ Reilly Reid to provide a very good multi-faceted scorer on the wing to play off now third-year pg Sage Usher while 6’5″ Manny Suhota was impressive in the NCAA series before injuring himself in the Bahamas against UNLV and unfortunately missed the remainder of the tour. The fifth and final season in the fine career of 6’5″ Devin Johnson should end in the Blues advancing deeper into the OUA playoffs at a minimum.
Western… Mustangs are re-tooling after losing virtually all of their starters and main decision makers including one 0f the top players ever at that storied program in 6’3″ Greg Morrow. Coach Brad Campbell has a wide array of new faces to replace Morrow, 6’5″ Peter Scholtes, 6’3″ Tom Figliano, 6’4″ Anthony Spiridis and 6’1″ Elliott Dooley, starting with the return of former prized 6’6″ recruit Cam Morris, who returns after sitting out a couple of years after surgery. Others who got meaningful time in the August NCAA games include 6’9″ Alex Otzyv (redshirt last season from Kiski School), 6’7″ Daniil Shesterinin (Milton Bishop Reding) and 6’0″ Eriq Jenkins (Windsor Catholic Central via Lemoyne College D2 in Syracuse). Another sterling athlete who was scheduled to help was 6’6″ Dylon Gregory (Brampton Campion) however Gregory committed to a D2 school late in the process. Mustangs hope third-year shooting guard 6’3″ Jedson Tavernier can start to fulfill some of the promise he showed as a freshman after a somewhat-trying sophomore season.
We are remiss in not commenting on Guelph’s late summer series of games. More to come.
A couple of other touted transfers have had their careers at their new schools derailed recently as both 6’5″ Gianmarco Luciani (York, ex-Acadia) and 6’1″ Mitch Mazzuca (Laurentian, ex-D2) suffer ACL injuries. We hope to have more on their status going forward. Each were earmarked for major rotation minutes at their respective schools. (With thanks to a long-time blog supporter going back 25+ years).
We hope to have a more comprehensive look at some of the top programs across the country including Dalhousie which brings in a Top 5 CIS recruit in Alex Carson and also Queen’s transfer 6’9″ Ryall Stroud, who was one of the most improved big men in the country last season. Expect Brock’s talent level and depth to be of higher quality this season while the aforementioned Ryerson Rams should also have Top 5-like talent. Stay tuned.