It was great to catch up with Dalhousie Tigers Head Coach Rick Plato, now entering his 4th season at the helm of the two-time defending AUS champions who authored the biggest win in the history of their program with a come-back win over uOttawa Gee-Gees in the CIS Final 8 first round.
Plato is a hoops lifer who fell in love with the game while in high school in Ridgeway, Ontario just outside Fort Erie, testing his game in the early 70’s in the “Region” against the likes of Jay Triano, Tommy Skerlak (Simon Fraser) and Phil Tamburino (Waterloo, McMaster) all Region legends from that time. Known as a knock-down shooter in his day, Plato teamed with Ross Quackenbush among others between 1976-81 during what many regard as the Golden Era of AUS basketball when sell-out crowds were the norm and the Halifax Metro Center was built and usually jammed for the AUS tournament. The well-decorated player won a pair of CIAU titles at Saint Mary’s and then went on to coach Mount St. Vincent Mystics for many years before taking over from John Campbell with the Tigers.
Now, somewhat later in his coaching career, Plato is beginning to achieve national notoriety with the Tigers, using a solid foundation left by Campbell augmented by some key recruits. That notoriety has helped provide currency for Plato on the national recruiting trail and with the arrival of 6’5″ Alex Carson, arguably the best player coming directly out of high school to remain in the CIS this season, Plato adds a high-end potential All-Canadian down the road. Carson is described as a hard-working gym rat who is good enough to start immediately, although given the remaining roster, Plato has several viable options.
The Tigers return everyone except graduated 6’5″ forward William Yengue from the group that got to the CIS semi-final game vs. Carleton. With four 5th year players including 6’8″ Queen’s transfer Ryall Stroud, there is plenty of experience and as Plato points out “more options inside” other than simply 6’2″ undersized post Kashrell Lawrence. Stroud provides a different look inside and has also improved as a rim protector as his career evolved with the Gaels. With fellow fifth-year seniors 6’1″ Ritchie Kanza-Mata and 6’2″ shooter Jarred Reid, Tigers have as much hardened experience at the top end of their rotation as any program in Canada.
Unfortunately, 6’2″ Cedric Sanogo, entering his third season as arguably Dal’s toughest player and a rotation regular, will not be available until at least mid-season as the Montreal native – who played all of last season with a shoulder problem – had major reconstructive surgery over the summer and continues to rehab.
Still, there is plenty of depth with reigning AUS Rookie-of-the-Year Jordan Aquino-Serjue, the heir-apparent at the point to Kanza-Mata and 6’10” Sascha Kappos, who grew an inch over the summer and added 10 pounds to his growing frame. Kappos, a rising sophomore, missed 8 games late last season with a dislocated thumb which interrupted his progress – however he is back to full health now and expected to display his fine array of finesse skills both facing and back-to-the-basket.
Of course 6’6″ sharpshooter Sven Stammberger, who dropped a career-high 40 points on UNB last season, helps stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting and overall compete level. Another pair of guards, 6’2″ Matt McVeigh, who provides instant perimeter offense off the bench and third point guard 5’9″ Adam Karmali a dead-eye shooter when left alone, both have already contributed big minutes at key times in their Dal careers.
Adding some veteran insurance, Plato welcomes 6’3″ Warren Liang, who started his post-secondary career with cross-town rival Saint Mary’s before transferring home to Capilano College. The fourth-year wing returns to Halifax with the Tigers providing depth at the end of the bench.
The Tigers open their pre-season this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Dalplex with games against Mount St. Vincent and Holland College. Dal then makes a trip into the GTA with games against York, Ryerson (a game between two Top 5 teams – pre-season rankings coming soon) and U of T Varsity Blues (coach by ex-Tigers coach John Campbell). Later, Dal will participate in the UPEI Mickey Place tournament – Concordia and Maine Fort-Kent (NAIA) are also there and cap off their pre-season at the Brock RBC Classic in late October where what should be another Top 10 match-up against the host Badgers awaits.
This season will be the culmination of probably the most successful senior class in Dal basketball history and the goal is very reasonable – a shot at the National Championship in a season when the CIS world returns their focus to Halifax and the 2017 CIS Final 8.