Most of our readers know him as the editor of CanadaWestHoops.com , the most comprehensive and accurate Canada West men’s basketball content on the web but Wayne Thomas’s contributions to university basketball in Canada go well beyond his site. Thomas has had a 40+ year affiliation with Calgary Dinos basketball (and prior) and has been instrumental in numerous sport initiatives. To recognize his tremendous efforts, Calgary Dinos are enshrining Wayne into their athletic Hall-of-Fame. Congratulations to Wayne and his wonderful, loyal and passionate work. (With a thankful hat-tip to our infamous Southern Alberta correspondent).
The historically-maligned five-team Quebec league has taken major steps forward in the past couple of seasons – most know that a “Q” program won a championship side Final 8 game for the first time in 13 seasons after McGill defeated Manitoba in Halifax – however also key is the rapid improvement in overall RSEQ performance in inter-league play.
After bottoming out in 2013-14 at a .300 cumulative winning percentage in games against other conferences, Quebec league teams won 46% of those games this past season including impressive wins by UQAM over uOttawa, Concordia over Queen’s, Nipissing and Toronto and Bishop’s at UNB (finished second in AUS) and vs. Toronto.
This league continues to improve as an influx of younger coaches begins to manifest in deeper and more quality rosters. Below is a first-look breakdown of key roster losses, early recruiting/transfer announcements and my take on the needs each team is likely to address between now and the start of 2017-18.
McGill… Redmen finally broke through to the Final 8 championship round semi-finals led by their 6’2″ All-Canadian Dele Ogundokun entering his fifth and final season. McGill honored 6’1″ Jenning Leung and 6’5″ Michael Peterkin at their Senior’s night although both still have one season of U Sports eligibility remaining. The emergence of 6’1″ RSEQ Freshman of the Year Kendrick Jolin plus the addition of American U. transfer 6’0″ Alex Paquin (two seasons of eligibility remaining) gives the Redmen a pair of creative guards who can put more one-on-one pressure on the defense than McGill has had for some time. Up front, McGill has experience and quality, especially with the maturation of 6’8″ Sebastien Beckett (rising 5th) who has emerged into a very good U Sports big man who can knock shots down and understands how to defend. Don’t forget that 6’7″ Francois Bourque (rising 5th) is a former RSEQ POY and 6’8″ Noah Daoust continues to gain consistency so Redmen front line is formidable. Both 6’1″ Isaiah Cummins (rising 3rd) and 6’4″ Avery Cadogen (rising 4th) continue to mature. McGill also added an athletic wing 6’5″ Jahfari Coulombe (Vanier College), who should help Redmen on the defensive end at a minimum. Redmen could use more depth on the wing – especially another young perimeter shooter and an off-the-bench replacement at the 4 spot among other areas.
Concordia… This deep but still generally young roster loses only 6’5″ post Michael Fosu to graduation. Stingers have three rotation regulars moving into their senior seasons including 6’4″ Ken Beaulieu (5th), 6’6″ T.J. Umar (5th) and 6’0″ Ricardo Monge (4th) so the roster, while gaining experience, remains bottom heavy with rising second and third year guys including 6’5″ Schneiders Suffrard (rising 3rd) who has yet to fulfill his huge promise – most observers agree that he has the potential to be a 1st team all-star. Entering his third season at the helm, Head Coach Rastko Popovic had a stellar class in his first full recruiting cycle last off-season that continues to mature including 6’1″ lefty shooting guard Nicky Noble, 6’0″ Henderson Charles, 6’7″ Olivier Simon and 6’3″ Rowan Power – each have plenty of promise and enter just their second season of eligibility. Concordia should also get 6’0″ Garry Mersier back after he missed the second half with injuries. With this newest class, Stingers bring in the leading scorer in “AAA” Cégep last season: 6’1″ Anthony Sanogo (Cégep Édouard-Montpetit) plus 6’3″ James Murray (Champlain-Lennoxville) to help with their perimeter shooting which again was an area of inconsistency this past season. Coach Popovic also is likely to address size along the front line after losing post-man Fosu to graduation.
UQAM… With 6’2″ lefty Greishe Clerjuste among the top returnees in the RSEQ, Head Coach Nate Philippe has a sound, proven scorer to build around. Citadins lose plenty of size and rim protection up front with graduation of 7’0″ Yassin Debache and 6’9″ Rudy Caufriez so addressing the 4 and 5 spots is key. 6’0″ Charles Miller, who missed much of the second half after an bad knee injury should be back strong and healthy with his ability to stretch the perimeter. Last season’s most effective freshman on UQAM was likely 6’0″ Misi Boye, who should mature into a strong U Sports point guard for Miller and Clerjuste to play off of. 6’5″ Ibrahima Sylla made large strides in his overall offensive package after the holidays and has the potential to be a lock-down defender. 6’4″ Christian Kadima, 6’7″ Christopher Doumpa – who had transfered from Concordia and 6’9″ Stefan Mitrovic all played supporting roles in their first season with the program while Philippe expects a pair of redshirts originally from Montmorency who practiced with the Citadins all of this past season: 6’5″ Christopher Adu and 6’0″ Alexandre Compres to work into the rotation. More size, depth at point guard and perimeter shooting are three areas of need with UQAM.
Laval… Maybe the most athletic roster in the conference loses just 5’11” point guard Karl Demers-Belanger and 6’2″ Laurier Beaulac-Dufresne to graduation. Unfortunately, 6’5″ Alexandre Leclerc, a perennial favorite for RSEQ POY now entering his 4th season, struggled with an ankle injury in the second half but 6’5″ Joel Muamba, filled with potential, saw more time and is expected to mature into a potential RSEQ all-star going forward. Most U Sports true “5” men mature later and Head Coach Jacques Paiement Jr. is hoping that 6’10” Marc-Andre Fortin blossoms in what will be his third season. Rouge et Or have two athletic albeit somewhat-undersized paint area players in 6’5″ Franston Demosthene (rising 3rd) and 6’5″ Charles-Andre Edorh (rising 4th) and are likely to get 6’6″ Antoine Beaumier back for his fifth and final season. 6’1″ Yoann Folquet (rising 3rd) adds depth at the point while 6’3″ Alain Bernard and 6’2″ Nicolas Begin (rising 4th) add to an already deep roster that appears to be well set for next season.
Bishop’s… Gaiters must replace their leader and “go to” scorer, 6’0″ Jona Bermillo but have 6’2″ Baltimore native Kevin Davis (injured and missed entire 2016-17 season) waiting in the wings. 6’5″ Abdul Kamane continues to progress as a slashing forward who can get himself to the foul line and is on track to become a conference all-star. Last season’s top rookie, 6’1″ Joany Castor-Thadal, entering his second season, is one of the top perimeter shooters in the league while 5’9″ Alexandre Bosse also helps at the guard spot. Up front, 6’5″ David Belanger has one season of eligibility remaining while the status 7’0″ Jonah Fogg remains uncertain as the promising big man battles concussion symptoms. Gaiters first announced recruit: 6’8″ Aidan Burns (Ottawa Canada Topflight Academy via Chateauguay, Quebec) should help up front. Three rising 3rd year wing forwards are also in the mix: 6’8″ Yassin Naji, 6’6″ Owen Martel and 6’5″ Duncan Lambert. Gaiters could use another perimeter shooter or two, an experienced big man and another point guard to add depth.
Despite the 2017-18 season still about 6 months away, U Sports coaches are pounding the pavement looking to fill out their rosters for the coming season with once again one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country being the RSEQ college league: Cégep.
The Quebec educational system differs from the rest of the country as high school only goes for three years before students move on to Cégep for three and sometimes as many as four years. As such, many Cégep players come out at the age of 20 or 21, in many cases more physically and mentally mature than a four-year high school student/athlete in the rest of the country. Consequently, Cégep continues to be a fertile recruiting ground for a growing number of U Sports programs across the country over and above the RSEQ.
And there is quality talent in the league: note that Montmorency College captured this season CCAA championship behind several quality players including 5’10” Kevin Civil and 6’5″ Alix Lochard. Both are expected to return to Momo for next season. To qualify for the Nationals, Les Nomades defeated Vanier College of Montreal in the Quebec championship game and the finalist Cheetahs will be well represented at the next level this coming season as at least five Vanier players are set to join U Sports programs including a pair of announced McGill recruits: 6’5″ Jahfari Coulombe, regarded as a strong defender at the 3 and 4 spots and 6’9″ Arnaud Boyer-Cillis, expected to be groomed into another in the growing line of impact posts at McGill.
The quality talent has not gone unrecognized outside of the Quebec border – recall that two of the top Cégep graduates from last season ended up in the OUA as the league’s leading scorer 6’6″ Keevon Small (John Abbott) was an impact freshman at Final 8 finalist Ryerson Rams and 6’6″ Daniel Cayer (John Abbott), the leading rebounder in Cégep in his final season, was a solid rotation contributor at Brock.
And, according to multiple sources, the Badgers are set to announce at least three more Cégep recruits – all from Vanier – including a potential point-guard-of-the-future in 6’3″ Ibrahim Ngom (15.4 ppg/4 apg/28 mpg/86% ft) who should be an immediate contributor at Brock. (Note that we originally had talked about 6’2″ Kascius Small-Martin from Vaughan Prep as Brock’s next point guard; Small-Martin is actually set to be an impact wing). Also said to be headed to St. Catharines are Ibrahim’s twin brother 6’3″ Djibril Ngom (3.4 ppg/21 mpg) and 6’6″ Godsman Kwakwah (9.2 ppg) who is dripping with athletic ability and potential and likely will be more impactful as he grows into what is now a slight even skinny frame.
Carleton has another potential big man star in the making in 6’9″ Biniam Ghebrekidan, from Gatineau, Quebec via Ecole Grande Riviere, Cégep Outaouais (where he played for former Carleton great and present Raven assistant Osvaldo Jeanty) and the Ottawa Guardsmen. Saint Mary’s have signed 6’5″ Nikita Kasongo (Champlain St. Lambert), another in the long line of athletic wing forwards in the Huskies mould who love to get out in transition and attack the offensive glass.
Other Cégep stars looking to make an impact in U Sports next season include 6’1″ Anthony Sanogo of Edouard Montpetit, Cégep leading scorer this past season, who has committed to Concordia. Stingers also just signed 6’3″ James Murray (Champlain-Lennoxville), where he played for Head Coach Mathieu Beaudoin. We also previously announced 4 UQAM recruits all from Cégep.
Quebec basketball continues to improve at a rapid clip and expect the Cégep league to continue to stock rosters across the country going forward.
Doubling down on our “way-too-early” Top 10 released earlier this week, we continue our off-season coverage with an early conference-by-conference look at the current, immediately-post-Final 8 state of all (virtually) programs across the country.
We begin with the 8 team AUS including highlighting players lost to graduation, recruits announced thus far and our take on needs on a team-by-team basis.
Dalhousie Tigers… Three-time defending champions graduate the core of what made Tigers arguably the AUS top program over a prolonged, three year period in at least the past decade. But Coach Rick Plato does have talent returning with 6’2″ rising junior Jordan Aquino-Serjue likely to take on much of the perimeter decision making responsibilities from 5’11” Ritchie Kanza Mata while 6’6″ Sven Stammberger will be counted on for more perimeter scoring and basket slashing. Remember that 6’2″ Cedric Sanogo should return from injury to help fill the void on the wing from the loss of 6’4″ Jarred Reid. Where a logical replacement is not evident is up front given the versatility of 6’2″ Kashrell Lawrence, especially in the full court pressure that helped turn around so many games this season for Dalhousie. Lawrence’s strength and quickness in the press were overshadowed by his great work on the glass and inside and Kash’s overall contributions will be most challenging to replicate. 6’5″ Alex Carson, who missed all of the second half of his freshman season with a groin injury is set to take on a more prominent role beyond knocking down shots while 6’10” Sasha Kappos, his confidence growing as an inside scorer, continues to grow into his body and mature as a defender and rebounder. 6’1″ Matt McVeigh provides perimeter shooting and Plato has already added five recruits, two he believes will compete for time from the start: 6’2″ Jordan Brathwaite (Milton, ON/Bishop Reding) and 6’4″ Keevan Venoit, arguably the top senior in Atlantic Canada and son of former All-Canadian Kevin Venoit (Acadia), who will be groomed as the point guard of the future. 6’8″ Tyler Williams, son of a former CCAA star Derrick, is a U.S. import from Weber H.S. in Dallas, TX billed as a strong rebounder and defender. Coach Plato will have to weave in some new talent but Tigers are likely to remain an upper-echelon AUS team.
Saint Mary’s… With heavy losses due to graduation and the way Huskies love to play up tempo, in transition and on the offensive glass, coach Jonah Taussig has started his wing forward rebuild with what should be an impact plug-and-play rotation member in 6’5″ Nikita Kasongo (Champlain College), a player similar in stature and style to 6’5″ Brian Rouse and 6’5″ Theon Reefer (both graduated). Finding a replacement at the point for 5’9″ Marquis Clayton and his big-game/big-shot making abilities remains Taussig’s biggest off season challenge. 6’3″ 4th year wing/guard Kemar Alleyne should take on more of a leadership role, coming off a bit of an injury-plagued season. 6’0″ Jack Tilley is a candidate at the point however he played little this past season as a freshman while 6’2″ Will Fiander is probably still a complementary player at this stage of his career. Huskies are set up front with an experienced blend of strength and finesse in 6’6″ Ach Lual, 6’8″ Osman Barrie (missed entire season injured) and 6’6″ Brent Martindale, who has developed into a reliable 12-15 mpg AUS big off the bench. After a strong start in the pre-season, 6’2″ Kordiero James production fell off somewhat, exposing what many freshmen experience during the grind of a long season at the next level – but James has the potential to have a solid, if not All-Star career eventually. Huskies likely need at least one lead guard “of the future” and one impact athletic wing between now and the start of next season for any consideration for pre-season AUS title favorites.
St. FX… With virtually their entire rotation back – only 6’0″ Akil Charles has graduated – it is more than fair at this point to include X-Men in the early discussion as a possible AUS favorite. Reigning AUS POY 6’7″ Kevin Bercy returns for his 5th season, one of six rotation members in their senior seasons – indeed X’s roster shapes up as the most experienced in the conference. 6’6″ Cameron Walker mans the low post while fellow starters 6’3″ lefty Julius Antoine and 6’0″ point guard Davonte Provo round out a core that has played together for four or five years. As we repeat at the risk of ad nausem, most championship teams have veteran guards and 4th and 5th year guys usually make a positive difference in big games. 6’2″ Tristan Ross added the ability to attack a close out this season so expect him to evolve his game further while 6’1″ Justin Andrew adds perimeter shooting. 6’6″ Azaro Roker remains an intriguing prospect with his explosive, above-the-rim athletic ability – he was the author of several highlight reel put-back and transition slams this past season. X does need to find the point guard of the future as well as at least one more wing creator and more perimeter shooting. 6’1″ Jayden Smith, son of X legend Wade Smith, is X’s first announced recruit from Halifax Citadel.
Acadia… With the host bid at next season’s 2018 Nationals, Axemen try to build toward next March led by 6’3″ point guard Ben Miller, arguably the most cerebral player in the conference now entering his 4th season. Acadia also returns 6’9″ lefty all-AUS 1st team center Erik Nissen, a fierce competitor who has POY potential. Workhorse 6’8″ forward Rhys Larry, who missed the entire season due to injury, if healthy provides a wonderful complement to Nissen inside (** NOTE: Larry has left Acadia and is likely to surface at another program in time for this season). 6’0″ Nick DePalma is a defense-stretching three-point artist who opens things up inside. Acadia must replace talented 6’5″ Kyle Arsenault and 6’0″ A.J. Simmons and to that end need to see their newcomers from this season mature including 6’3″ Mitchell Tempro, 6’2″ Trevon Grant and 6’4″ Jerome Mugambi. 6’0″ Matt Ingram hopes to get more time as a perimeter shooter while 6’4″ Eli Kraushar, another star performer from Nova Scotia’s national championship provincial team, is Axemen’s first recruit for next season and is likely ready for rotation minutes.
UNB… Coming off a second place finish and with their top seven scorers eligible to return including 6’0″ Javon Masters, one of the all-time leading scorers in AUS history, Varsity Reds should be excited about this coming season. Only 6’3″ Kaleefa Henry and 6’8″ Stephon Smith have exhausted their eligibility and this past season’s newcomer class netted AUS ROY 6’5″ Jamaal Potopsingh, 6’2″ sharpshooter Chris Spurrell and slick 6’2″ Hess Mayele among others. Veterans 6’2″ Jesse Kendall (rising 4th, coming off an injury plagued season) and 6’5″ Dylan Baker (rising 5th) are also experienced returnees. Reds usually add some new faces although if everyone scheduled to come back does, they appear to be in a good spot to help Masters, who will retire as one of the all-time AUS greats, win the first post-season game of his career. Reds are trying to break a twelve season, six-game winless streak at the AUS tournament where their last win was in 2004-05 in the first round against UPEI.
Memorial… Coach Peter Benoite must replace all-AUS 6’9″ center Vasilije Curcic, 6’3″ Jacob Hynes and 6’2″ Kieran Hawksley (moving to grad school) so an influx of size is needed. The guard and wings spots appear well fortified with rising 5th year 5’11” pg Davion Parnsalu, 6’2″ instant offense Daniel Gordon (rising 5th), 6’1″ Austin Chambers (rising 4th), 6’4″ Greg Manual (rising 3rd), 6’5″ Jovan Babovic (rising 4th) and 6’4″ Nathan Barker, coming off a solid freshman season during which the Newfoundland native matured virtually every game. The two main needs that Benoite is likely to focus on bringing in some size and scoring up front as well as finding his point guard of the future given Parnsalu is entering his final season.
UPEI… Biggest issue with Panthers, coming off a disappointing 6-14 non-tournament season, is that AD Chris Huggan is working to find a successor for coach Tim Kendrick in time for 1st May. The new coach will have to replace 5 seniors representing 140 minutes per game and 70% of the shots led by the graduation of 6’2″ 2nd team all-AUS Tyler Scott and 6’8″ Dut Dut. 6’7″ Milorad Sedlarevic (rising 4th), 6’2″ Shavon Gayle (rising 3rd) and 6’0″ Samy Mohamed (rising 5th) are the top returnees and 5 recruits led by 6’6″ Vernelle Johnson have been announced. However this situation is likely best described as a full rebuild.
Cape Breton… Head Coach David Petroziello is in the midst of working through his first full recruiting cycle after taking over in mid-July of last year. 6’2″ Seth Amoah is the only Caper on this past season’s roster who has exhausted eligibility. Key newcomer is 6’1″ German import point guard Nico Brauner who was injured all season and is expected to log major minutes as Capers floor general. 6’5″ Kenny Jean-Louis, entering his fifth and final season, is a triple double potential guy each night. Beyond that, given Capers winless record in AUS play last season, there are major minutes up for grabs as Petroziello pounds the pavement to upgrade the roster to reflect his style and culture.
At this early stage….
First-round bye contenders: St. FX, UNB, Dal
Likely Playoff participants: Acadia, Saint Mary’s, Memorial
Rebuilding: Cape Breton, UPEI.
In our “way-too-early” Top 10 preview published earlier today, uOttawa Gee-Gees were ranked considerably lower at #8 than the elite U Sports program has been used to in years past, primarily from the comparative lack of experience at the point guard and wing spots where the only rotation-ready scheduled-to-return players are 6’4″ rising fourth-year wing Brandon Robinson and 5’10” rising third-year point guard Calvin Epistola. Much of Ottawa’s skill over the past two seasons breaking down opponents off the dribble sat in the hands of 6’3″ Caleb Agada, who has graduated.
However, with the additions of a pair of Nova Scotia-bred freshmen, 6’5″ Chase Tynes (Auburn Drive H.S., Cole Harbor, N.S.) and 6’3″ Alex Muise (C.P. Allen H.S., Bedford, N.S.), Ottawa brings in a potential pair of stars in the making who led their province to the Canadian national championships last summer, highlighted by their ability to break opponents down off the dribble and get to the rim. Still, both are freshman in a league where there is no substitute for experience.
Fortunately, Gee-Gees coach James Derouin has a proven, experienced top-end transfer waiting in the wings in 5’11” point guard Sean Stoqua, a native of Ottawa who was a two-sport star at Acadia but has transferred home to a graduate program. The high IQ point has been participating in informal workouts with the Gee-Gees for several weeks. While Stoqua’s academic course acceptance is not a done deal, the final few details are said to be a mere formality and most expect Stoqua to step in at the lead guard spot for the next two seasons as an Ottawa Gee-Gee.
The basketball world here in Ottawa continues to turn on it’s proverbial head as Stoqua is the son of long-time (40 years plus) Ravens two-sport alumni and Capital Region sports legend Pat Stoqua. Recall also that Ravens women’s team has uOttawa transfer Catherine Traer, daughter of Gee-Gees alumnus Rick Traer, a loyal Garnet & Grey player, coach and influential alumni for 40 years plus also.
The younger Stoqua, an AUS all-star in both basketball and football at Acadia, has a wonderful feel for the game and tremendous decision making ability combined with beyond-the-arc shooting range, which sets up well for uOttawa’s stable of young shooting guards and perimeter slashing wings.
Gee-Gees also are expected to announce shortly that 6’1″ Borys Minger from Quebec’s Thetford Academy will join the program in time for next season. Some recruiting news-bites had Minger headed for Carleton last season however that never materialized. Minger has solid athletic ability and defensive skills. If ultimately realized and there is little reason to think otherwise, a Gee-Gees rotation with Stoqua running the point elevates uOttawa back into a Top 5 pre-season ranking even if it is “way-too-early” !
Realizing that the beginning of next pre-season is about six months away and there are numerous recruiting and transfer announcements that will ensue during that time, I have nonetheless borrowed from our friends down south and provided my first, quick look at a potential Top 10 for next season – based strictly on how rosters look at this point of the calendar.
Many media outlets that closely follow NCAA Football (my USC Trojans are pre-season #3 with (unfounded) concerns at both tackle spots on the offensive line) and Men’s Basketball (list will show up a couple of days after the championship game) provide similar commentaries.
Thus, without further ado, here is our first “way-too-early” look at U Sports Men’s Basketball Top 10 for next season:
#1 Ryerson… While Rams lose 6’3″ All-Canadian Adika Peter-McNeilly and 6’6″ glue-guy Juwon Grannum, next season’s Moser Award candidate 6’4″ Ammanuel Diressa headlines a strong returning roster that will add 6’5″ York transfer Nathan Culbreath, another electric athlete who finishes above the rim and should help defensively. Next season’s team will have at least six 4th and 5th year players including solid guards – experience could be the most under-rated piece of winning and Rams are loaded with quality, senior class talent.
#2 Carleton… Heavy losses due to graduation including Moser Award winner Connor Wood and pg Kaza Kajami-Keane requires that coach Dave Smart replace 90-100 minutes of time with only 4 rising seniors on the roster. The roster is deep with talent and athleticism but experience takes a hit with the uncertainty of replacing a graduated group that took about 60% of Carleton’s shots this past post-season. Thus far, the recruiting class is deep with promise and skill however does not likely have anyone who can step in immediately for feature minutes. At this point, expect 5’9″ Emmanuel Owootaoh, 6’2″ Marcus Anderson and 6’1″ Stanley Mayambo to assume perimeter decision making roles while 6’5″ T.J. Lall is set to become Carleton’s next lock-down defender. The maturity, especially defensively, of 6’9″ Eddie Ekiyor will have a major impact on the Ravens style of play in ’17-’18.
#3 Alberta… Golden Bears come off a Canada West title with their entire rotation except for reserve 7’1″ center Brett Roughead back. Recall Alberta was arguably one late, incorrect travelling call away from stunning Dalhousie in Halifax in the first round of the Nationals. With that added hostile-environment, post-season experience under their belts, the rotation will have at least 5 players in their senior seasons – keys being 6’1″ Austin Waddoups and 6’7″ Mamadou Gueye – plus solid young talent with CW All-Star 6’7″ Brody Clarke, 6’2″ Dwan Williams and 6’2″ Andre Kelly. Bears are potentially a national championship contender.
#4 Brock… While Badgers lose four players to graduation, the foundation of their rotation returns led by 6’7″ Moser Award candidate Dani Elgadi (5th) and one of the most electric scorers in the nation in 6’5″ Johneil Simpson, who has matured into a much better offensive decision maker. Brock, which has the added incentive of being overlooked for an “at large” Final 8 bid this past season, believes they have addressed their depth at the point guard spot with touted 6’2″ recruit Kascius Small-Martin (Vaughan Prep/CIA Bounce) to join rising 3rd year guard Tyler Brown. Both 6’7″ Cassidy Ryan and 6’6″ Daniel Cayer made productive late season strides, putting Brock in a position to rule OUA West for the next several years.
#5 UBC… Certainly a team that also can carry a chip on their shoulder after being overlooked for a Final 8 “at large” bid, Thunderbirds return 7 of their top 9 rotation players including 6’9″ Moser Award candidate Conor Morgan, who suffered through a late-season ankle injury that impacted UBC’s post-season. The loss of starters 6’6″ Jordan Jensen-Whyte and 6’4″ Will Ondrik requires replacing 57 minutes and 26 points per game however the rotation will have at least five players in their senior seasons as well as the addition of high-potential impact 6’2″ Jauquin Bennett-Boire (Saskatchewan transfer). Expect more impact recruits to arrive and for T-Birds to re-emerge as Canada West favorites.
#6 McGill… Redmen finally erased an RSEQ decades-plus winless streak at the Final 8, even without injured Quebec Rookie-of-the-Year Kendrick Jolin. 6’2″ Dele Ogundokun enters his fifth season as a returning All-Canadian, RSEQ Player-of-the-Year and RSEQ Defensive Player-of-the-Year, epitomizing McGill’s emphasis of defending and rebounding. The losses of 6’5″ Michael Peterkin and 6’2″ Jenning Leung will be impactful however expect Redmen to bring in at least one plug-in starter in the back court and leverage the experience of another Final 8 appearance to improve their quality depth up front and at the guard spots.
#7 Saskatchewan… Although Huskies lose workhorse 6’6″ forward Matt Forbes and perimeter-stretching 6’6″ Trevor Severinski, Sask is another program with several returning seniors featuring 6’6″ All-Canadian Shane Osayande (5th), 6’5″ forward Jaylen Morgan and 5’10” Alex Unruh (5th). Remember that prized youngster 6’2″ Chan DeCiman missed the entire second half with a groin injury and stellar 6’2″ U.S. import guard Lawrence Moore is set to have a full summer and training camp with Huskies after joining the program in January. 6’2″ rising sophomore guard Emmanuel Akintunde should see increased time and, as per usual, expect Huskies to hit recruiting trail hard.
#8 Ottawa… While Gee-Gees remain an elite U Sports program, the ability to replace graduated stars 6’3″ Caleb Agada, 6’6″ Matt Plunkett and 6’2″ Adam Presutti – who shared much of the perimeter decision making responsibilities, will be challenging. Certainly 6’4″ Brandon Robinson (4th) and 5’10” Calvin Epistola (3rd) have shown promise but Ottawa suddenly got much younger and inexperienced at the guard/wing spots. Ottawa still has arguably the top big-man duo in the nation in 6’9″ Jean Pierre-Charles and 6’7″ Brody Maracle and the addition of Dartmouth’s 6’5″ freshman Chase Tynes, a high-end recruit who should see minutes immediately, will help. But if experience is an underlying key, Ottawa will have to see their younger guards mature rapidly to remain a top 3-5 team next season.
#9 Dalhousie… The loss of four seniors including three vital cogs in 6’2″ Kashrell Lawrence, 5’11” Ritchie Kanza Mata and 6’3″ Jarred Reid will be difficult to replace. But Tigers as long as Tigers continue to defend, rebound and get easy offense off their press, this program will remain in contention. There is solid talent returning in 6’6″ ’18 AUS POY candidate Sven Stammberger (5th), last season’s CIS ROY 6’1″ Jordan Aquino-Serjue and prized 6’5″ wing forward Alex Carson, who should be healthy after missing the entire second half with a groin injury. Don’t forget that 6’2″ third-year wing Cedric Sanogo missed the entire season due to injury and 6’10” and growing forward Sasha Kappos is likely to continue to mature, especially defensively. Coach Rick Plato has already announced a five-man recruiting class that includes 6’7″ Tyler Williams from Dallas, TX. While Dal has probably come back to the pack in the AUS, expect the system to keep them in contention.
#10 Calgary… The injury bug hit the Dinos hard at a tough time in the season – Calgary usually went at least 11 deep with quality before the losses of 6’6″ Dallas Karch (graduated), 6’5″ Jasdeep Gill (graduated), 6’6″ Lars Schlueter (4th) and 6’6″ Matt Ellis (4th) cut into their Final 8 rotation. The loss of high-volume shooting 6’5″ Thomas Cooper will hurt also but plenty of talent remains including an experienced back court with now two consecutive Final 8’s of experience including 5’11” David Kapinga (4th) and 6’0″ Jhony Verrone (5th). A strong formidable front court returns also while Dinos expect 6’8″ Jeff Rodehutskors to contribute. Dinos also bring in 6’1″ Lucas Mannes (transfer from Trinity Western) to help stretch the “d”, the Chilliwack, B.C. native lit up Calgary for 39 points including 7-13 shooting from three while with the Spartans in 15-16.
St. FX (all main starters and rotation players except 6’0″ Akil Charles are back)
Laurentian (all main rotation guys are back)
Concordia (young, talented group maturing and lose only 6’5″ Michael Fosu)
Winnipeg (strong young team)
UNB (most main contributors including 6’0″ Javon Masters returning).
Coming off back-to-back RSEQ championship game appearances in his first two seasons since taking over the Citadins program, Head Coach Nate Philippe continues to remodel his roster with a view of moving into the national Top 10 discussion. This past season’s title game appearance was widely recognized as a strong coaching job given that some, including this site, had picked UQAM to finish dead last in the “Q” after Philippe’s program unexpected had to adjust to losing reigning RSEQ Player-of-the-Year Kewyn Blain in late August, just before the start of the season. But Philippe was still able to lead Citadins to an 8-8 regular season finish before a second consecutive semi-final victory over Concordia to get to the Finals, before losing to McGill.
We are planning more comprehensive updates on roster churn and off season needs of all U Sports programs in the coming days however as new recruiting announcements come out we will try to report in a timely manner. To that end, UQAM has added to their recruiting class – recall in late January coach Philippe announced the signing of 6’1″ guard Karim Sabban from Vanier College who averaged 4.2 ppg in 12 mpg this past season for the 10-4 Cheetahs. Philippe followed up that signing with 6’9″ Antoine Labelle Lacoste from Champlain-St. Lambert. The center, who averaged 6.3 ppg/7.1 rpg in 26 mpg for 1-13 Cavaliers this past season, helps fill a void up front for UQAM, which lost 7’0″ Yassin Debache and 6’9″ Rudy Caufriez to graduation after this past season. Most CIS/U Sports centers take time to develop and Debache especially, after a couple of years of grooming, turned into a solid rim-protecting defender and effective, complementary low-post scorer. Philippe plans to mould Labelle Lacoste into a similar producer given his good hands and footwork.
Philippe also has a pair of potentially impact red-shirts who practiced with the team all of this season with plans to add to his rotation for 2017-18 led by 6’0″ point guard Alexandre Compres, who is described as a lock-down defender and a crafty, tough floor general. Compres last played at Montmorency in 2013-14 when he averaged 7.7 ppg in 35 mpg. As well, 6’5″ Christopher Adu, another Montmorency product returns to fortify the wing forward spot. Adu averaged 5.4 points, 4.1 rebounds in 18 mpg in 2014-15. Both provide a veteran presence and depth. Expect UQAM to add to their class in the coming weeks.
One of the least-kept secrets over the past month or so was the decision by the OUA via a series of votes to once again revise the format of OUA basketball back to two divisions: East and West. East Division will consist of 8 teams (7 “originals” + Nipissing) and West will have 9 teams (8 “originals” + Algoma). Note that when Algoma originally joined the OUA in 2013-14, they joined OUA East.
My current understanding is that regular season will consist of home/home series within the division and single games against each team in the other division. As such, OUA East teams will play 23 games (2 x 7 games intra-division + 9 outside their division) while OUA West teams will play 24 games (2 x 8 games intra-division + 8 outside their division).
Neate Sager at Cisblog.ca has already outlined how this new format is poised to stifle the ability of the conference to have the best teams to compete for one of two guaranteed Final 8 spots. Specifically quoting Neate’s outstanding piece:
it’s not hard to read some OUA politics into a decision that would put Carleton, Ottawa and Ryerson in the same division with no mechanism for all three to be in the final four with a chance to go to nationals (as long as there’s only one at-large berth, the seeding committee is probably not going to have the stones to pick a Top 5 team which was a quarter-finalist; just ask UBC).
For the past three OUA seasons, with the shift to a four division structure, prevailing playoff formats helped ensure that the best four teams in the conference, regardless of which division they came from, competed for the Wilson Cup and the two automatic bids to the Final 8 would be represented by the two best teams – again regardless of division.
In those three seasons, Carleton, Ryerson and Ottawa all participated in the OUA Final 4 and, according to National rankings, regular season results and, frankly, the eye test, these three teams by any measure were worthy of a Wilson Cup Final 4 berth. As well, in two of those seasons (’14-’15 & ’15-’16), the Wilson Cup Bronze medal winner was awarded the “at-large” berth at the Nationals – and to very little debate – in both of those seasons Carleton, Ottawa and Ryerson were ranked in the Top 5 virtually all season. This season, amid a storm of controversy, Brock was edged out of the Nationals despite a top 10 ranking for the entire season.
The new OUA format dictates that playoff series will remain within each division until the top 2 teams from each division are determined. At that point – if history is a guide – teams will cross-over i.e. OUA West #2 at OUA East #1 and OUA East #2 at OUA West #1 in a single game elimination (to be played on a Wednesday night). The two winners of the semi-finals will advance to the OUA Wilson Cup championship game and, very likely, a Third Place game will be played, both on the Saturday after the semi-finals. Again, if history is a guide, the home game for the Wilson Cup final will alternate between East and West.
As Neate properly alludes to, assuming Carleton, Ryerson and Ottawa continue to be the three best teams by record in the OUA, one of those teams will very likely be denied a spot at the Nationals regardless of season ranking and which teams they may have previously defeated that, strictly because of the format, they will not have a chance to play during the playoffs.
This new format has at least two programs exploring situations that are founded in a more competitive environment and thus be more beneficial to their student/athletes. For over a decade, uOttawa Gee-Gees have worked to align their athletic programs with those in Quebec. Indeed several years ago under former Athletic Director Luc Gelineau, uOttawa formally applied to join RSEQ for reasons including the university’s French-Canadian focus, reduction in travel costs and, most prominently, a strategic alignment that Gelineau had with RSEQ regarding athletic scholarships – Gelineau’s view was that Quebec’s financial-aid policies for athletics were more progressive than OUA’s. Unfortunately, the overtures by uOttawa at that time were turned down. More recently, Gee-Gees women’s volleyball did make the move from OUA to RSEQ beginning this past season – establishing a precedence at the university and with the Quebec league allowing an Ontario school to their conference. Recall also that Bishop’s football program has left to play in the AUS. Informal dialogue with RSEQ men’s basketball officials uncovered that Gee-Gees would likely be welcomed into their conference, if only to increase the number of opponents Quebec league teams would have. Regardless, a move to RSEQ basketball league appears to be a viable alternative for the Gee-Gees.
Ryerson Rams arguably have, in recent past, been the men’s basketball program most negatively affected by the two-division format and resulting playoff bracket. In the each of the prior two seasons that deployed the two-division format (2013-14 and 2012-13), Ryerson (16-6 in ’13-’14 and 15-5 in ’12-’13: both 3rd place finishes in the East and minimum 4th best record in entire OUA) had to travel to Ottawa for an OUA quarter-final to face Top 3 nationally Gee-Gees team. Both seasons, Rams lost final-possession, quarter-final road games that eliminated them from the post-season with no chance at redemption against teams in the West with similar or even weaker records.
Rams clearly were among the multiple OUA teams not in favor of the return to the old format and are also a candidate to look for greener pastures that fit their “continual striving for excellence”. Head Coach Roy Rana shared that Rams are “always looking to provide the best experience for our student athletes and looking for the most competitive situations which in the long run we think are best for them.” To that end, Rana explained that, just like the Gee-Gees, “we will continue to explore other avenues including NCAA, NAIA or whatever puts our student/athletes in the best possible competitive situation”.
The change in structure takes us back almost full circle to how things were in the late 90’s when, as late as 2000-01, OUA East and OUA West teams did not even play inter-division games. Each league simply played a pair of home-and-home games for a 14 game regular season with virtually every league game played after Christmas. OUA West games typically were played Wednesday and Saturday.
In 2001-02, OUA format changed to a single game interlock – each team’s regular season schedule jumped to 22 games with inter-division games played before Christmas – but still without any playoff cross-over until the Wilson Cup championship game – OUA East and OUA West playoff champions received the two conference automatic bids. In those early days, OUA West teams dominated the inter-lock, but with the advent to elite programs by Carleton and Ottawa especially, results changed fairly rapidly. By 2009-10, OUA format evolved to a cross-over at the Wilson Cup semi-final and continued that way until 2013-14.
Now after a three-year stint during which it is commonly accepted that the OUA has qualified their two best teams, regardless of division, and, in the 2 of the 3 seasons, the third place team made the Nationals via wild card, the conference in many people’s eyes is regressing back to questionable formats of days gone by. Unfortunately, it appears that the choice by some OUA members to do so could at some point have adverse affects on the elite competitive level of the entire OUA conference and potentially result in a smaller, less competitive league in need of yet another format change.
In what was a bit of a shocker, especially given that Coach was attending coaches meetings in Halifax this past week, UPEI announced that the contract of Tim Kendrick, their Head men’s basketball since late July, 2011, would not be renewed. Panthers come off a disappointing season as their fifth-year senior laden crew, led by 6’2″ All-Canadian Tyler Scott, was expected to contend for an AUS championship, especially after last season’s run to the championship game.
Kendrick compiled a career record of 70-50 and garnered AUS coach-of-the-year honors in 2011-12 but Panthers struggled this season amid some injury issues, finishing 6-14 and out of the AUS tournament. Panthers struggled on the defensive end this season, allowing almost 92.0 points per game and allowing teams to shoot 39.2% from the three, highest in the conference. Players were sympathetic to Kendrick’s release as per this article in PEI newspaper and by all accounts, including a passionate Senior’s Night earlier this season, Kendrick was well regarded as a “player’s coach”.
UPEI Athletic Director Chris Huggan shared that his decision not to renew Kendrick’s contract was a “tough one” and has already had numerous inquiries for the position. Huggan will make the process an “open competition” and expects to conduct a thorough review of candidates skills, likely including on-court sessions. Huggan sounded confident that Panthers can attract a coach with strong national appeal.
The focus now turns to the candidates to replace Kendrick, who by most accounts had a compensation package in the lower strata of U Sports coaches. Logical names to consider include:
- Mike Leslie, a PEI native who is presently Head Coach of Halifax Hurricanes of NBL-Canada and leading the Atlantic Division with a 21-6 record in his first season as bench boss (named in late November, 2016)
- Holland College Head man and Charlottetown native Josh Whitty, this season’s ACAA champions and getting set to host CCAA National championships at home beginning today (15th March) and defending CCAA Coach-of-the-Year, although the program was docked 6 victories this season over an eligibility issue
- Long-time high school and prep Head Coach and former CIS assistant (Guelph & Waterloo) Tarry Upshaw, a native of Windsor, Nova Scotia and presently Head Coach at Ridley College in St. Catharines, ON
- Several capable and ready U Sports Assistants who currently work for elite programs are in my opinion ready to assume Head Coaching roles including Ryerson’s Borko Popic and McGill’s Madhav Trivedi.
Some recall that UQAM Head Coach Nate Philippe started his playing career at UPEI before transferring to Saint Mary’s (circa early 2000’s) and, as a result, would be considered for the position. Philippe confirmed with me earlier today that he won’t be applying for the position and is not involved in any way.
Finally, recall that UPEI is the alma mater of Scott Morrison, one of Canada’s most successful coaches now working in the U.S.A. in the Boston Celtics organization as Head Coach of Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League. Expect the UPEI Athletic Department to be amenable to suggestions/recommendations from Morrison, who observers recall was an All-Conference three-point shooter for the Panthers before moving into coaching, most notably for CIS fans rebuilding Lakehead from one of the worst programs in Canada to a Wilson Cup champion and Final 8 championship game participant before finding appeal in the U.S. Morrison could put forth names of some of his former players who are trying to break through into the coaching ranks.
Huggan has a target of May 1st, 2017 to have the new Head Coach in place.
In what was a memorable four-day event culminating in an exciting championship game that almost saw one of the most incredible and improbable comebacks in the history of the tournament, once again Carleton Ravens brought home the title with another solid display of preparation and execution. I’ve talked all week about how hospitable the folks in Halifax are and how this event fits so well in that setting; next season’s event will be hosted by Acadia University as the Athletic Directors conducted a ceremonial hand-off on Sunday. We trust that Acadia AD Kevin Dickie plans to be as visible and welcoming as Dal’s team led by Tim Maloney & Co. were this past weekend. One issue that was a hot topic with numerous people I talked or texted with was the lines on the court, most notably the four different three-point stripes that confused many players and fans – I was also advised by some that the arena floor is quite old and in need of replacement. The television coverage was tremendous as the entire team prepared well for the broadcasts which came across very professionally however the one over-riding improvement area that needs to be addressed is the floor and the lines. One idea could be to purchase a new floor from the NCAA, which has floors for the Final 4 built specifically for that single event each year – that is, NCAA builds a brand new floor for about $75-100K each year for each event. The floor apparently can be purchased in the secondary market for usually less than that initial construction price. A recent article talks to how custom-designed NCAA floors have been re-purposed recently… I thought the officiating was generally strong other than the end of the Dalhousie/Alberta game when an obvious non-travel was called a walk – the first travel called in the entire game ! – which cost Golden Bears a lay-up that would have given them a two-point lead with under a minute to play. The Bronze medal Dalhousie / McGill game also ended in some controversy as the Redmen bench was assessed a late technical after a series of very questionable calls. Redmen Coach Dave DeAveiro was adamant that his team’s inability to deal with Tigers full-court defensive pressure – and not the officiating – was the main reason for his side blowing a 10-point lead but the facts somewhat speak for themselves: McGill was whistled for 30 fouls in the game against just 21 for Dal and Tigers shot 37 free throws against just 13 for McGill… While Dal’s comeback win yesterday was dramatic and clutch, in reality, as pointed out by an observant coach in the field, Tigers displayed an uncanny ability for fourth quarter comebacks in post-season games in the Metro Center beginning with their unbelievable turnaround in the AUS semi-final when Dal was down 6 with under 40 seconds to go and pulled it out vs. Acadia as 6’6″ Sven Stammberger had a dramatic steal and dunk with 15 seconds left to get it to 1 followed by 6’2″ Kash Lawrence hitting the game winning free throws in the waning seconds. Tigers also came from 14 points down in the AUS championship game vs. Saint Mary’s, rallying to win. In the Final 8 quarter-final vs. Alberta, trailing by 2 in the final minute, 5’11” Ritchie Kanza Mata tied the game with just 40 seconds remaining and, after the controversial traveling call, RKM drove the lane to find Lawrence for the game-winning bucket with just 1.3 seconds showing on the clock to gut that victory out. While Tigers could not complete the comeback against Ryerson, it did look like that game would get away in the second half before Dal had a look at the game-winner that just came off and then the aforementioned comeback against McGill in the Bronze medal game when Dal trailed by 10 early in the fourth quarter. Tigers fifth-year trio of Lawrence, Kanza Mata and 6’3″ Jarred Reid formed as solid a defensive and rebounding group as was in the tournament and coach Rick Plato has much to replace as these three stalwards graduate with the memories of dramatic comebacks that epitomized their great careers… Here are my personal tournament honors selections: MVP: 6’2″ Kaza Kajami-Keane, Carleton (15.7 ppg/6.3 rpg/6.7 apg). Tournament All-Star team: 6’3″ Adika Peter-McNeilly, Ryerson (17.7 ppg/6.0 rpg); 6’5″ Ammanuel Diressa, Ryerson (16.7 ppg/5.7 rpg); 6’2″ Kashrell Lawrence, Dalhousie (17.7 ppg/7.3 rpg); 6’4″ Connor Wood, Carleton (14.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.7 apg); 6’2″ Dele Ogundokun, McGill (10.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg).