NOTE: Due to some IT challenges, a prior version of this update appeared with an abbreviated version of the Laurier piece which has since been revised with more detail…
With their impressive improvement culminating in a third place OUA finish this past season, Charles Kissi‘s Badgers established major separation atop what is now the newest incarnation of the OUA West. Still, several teams are on the upswing and with the coaching change at McMaster, many long-time observers are hopeful that this conference will return to historic levels of 5-10 years ago when typically 3 or 4 teams from Ontario West dotted the CIS Top 10.
If the early announcements and other discussions are any indication, there is likely to be a meaningful shift in the make-up of many rosters, specifically with several additions of impact big men in the mould of the true “5” man, potentially reversing a recent general trend toward smaller lineups. At least 5 programs have announced or are likely to bring in tall, burly posts between 6’10” and 7’0″, another exciting development as U-Sport basketball continues to battle for higher profile on the Canadian sporting landscape.
Brock… Coming off a break-through season for coach Charles Kissi that included a pair of wins against National championship game participant Ryerson and a Wilson Cup Bronze medal after a win against perennial Top 5 team uOttawa among others, the Badgers are laser-focused on avenging what was strongly felt in the “Region” as a Final 8 “at-large” bid slight. Brock loses 5 of the top 12 from this past season’s roster (starters 6’4″ Ryan Bennett and 6’5″ Trevor Thompson have graduated but majority of the other losses are confined to the bottom end of the rotation including 5’10” Nolan MacKenzie and 6’4″ Mo Ismail). Still, the high-quality core returns led by 6’7″ former All-Canadian Dani Elgadi, who played like an A/C down the stretch last season, 6’5″ Johnell Simpson, 6’7″ Cassidy Ryan – who played the final two months like the D1 transfer impact many were expecting and 6’6″ freshman sensation Daniel Cayer. Although 5’11” Tyler Brown has improved dramatically into a front-end lead guard, Kissi realizes that more depth at the point guard spot is required and thus is bringing in 6’3″ Ibrahim Ngom (Vanier CEGEP) who is likely to be a plug-and-play lead guard. 6’2″ Kascius Small-Martin (Scarborough Jean Vanier via Vaughan Prep) adds depth to the wing guard spot. Expect 6’1″ Michael Asemota to continue to get comfortable off the bench and 6’7″ post Mitch Saunders, who redshirted this past season, should slide into the minutes that Thompson got. In an effort to add dominant size to the lineup, Kissi has signed 7’0″ Donald Mims, a transfer from Las Positas College (California Community College league) just southeast of San Francisco/Oakland. Mims, originally from Sacramento, averaged 7.6 ppg/6.7 rpg while shooting 60% from the field. Kissi is excited about 5’10” guard Noah LaPierre from Sudbury LaSalle, who is an explosive, underrated athlete, complete with a 40″ vertical and a confident, ballers mentality. More size should arrive with 6’10” Bobby Dhaliwal from Brampton Turner Fenton H.S. while a pair of Montreal Vanier College recruits: 6’6″ Godsman Kwakwah and 6’3″ Djibril Ngom (Ibrahim’s twin brother) are likely to provide depth in the rotation. Badgers could go as deep as 15 or 16 including redshirts when all is said and done with this season’s class in their effort to break into the U-Sport Final 8 tournament.
Windsor… Spunky 5’10” OUA all-star point guard Mike Rocca returns for his fifth and final season as one of the most improved players from first to fifth in recent OUA memory and, teaming with athletic 6’2″ Micqueel Martin, gives the Lancers one of the better guard tandems in the conference. 6’6″ Luke Allin will have a full season after transferring from Laurier – Lancers will expect more on the glass and at the defensive end from their now-senior wing forward. Coach Chris Oliver must replace two upper-end rotation wings in 6’3″ Mitch Farrell and 6’5″ Tyler Persaud but got a wonderful freshman season from 6’7″ Anthony Zrvnar. 6’4″ veteran fifth-year forward Randy Oriakhi, undersized as a post-area presence, provides experience off the bench. 6’4″ Lucas Orlita is a confident offensive player while two other rising sophomores – both from Guelph – 6’0″ Chris Poloniato and 6’4″ Lukas Wood, continue to get more experience in the Lancer system. Lancers have yet to announce any new recruits although rim protection and better overall rebounding are two areas of obvious need, especially for a program that usually features athletic guards and wings who love to push up and force the action defensively on the perimeter.
McMaster… Graduation and transfers have decimated the Marauders roster with 6’4″ Rohan Boney and 6’4″ Lazar Kojovic running out of eligibility, 6’3″ Elliot Ormond graduating after his fourth season (will not return) and 6’7″ OUA 1st Team all-star Connor Gilmore transferring to uOttawa. New coach Patrick Tatham does have 6’2″ David McCulloch, a 35 minute a game guy with all-star skills, to build around. 6’2″ Chris Thompson and 6’8″ Matt Quiring are the most notable of experienced returnees for Tatham to build around but expect a heavy roster turnover over the coming months/seasons. Marauders had previously announced that 6’2″ lefty Jacob Edwards, a native of Barrie, ON (Bear Creek S.S. where he played for ex-Marauder Paul Hopper before moving to St. Andrew’s College) has signed and the smooth-looking athlete brings the ability to shoot beyond the three point line and get to the rim. Also previously announced was 7’0″ Jake Hammell from Kirkland Lake, ON before moving to Florida’s IMG Academy projects as a developing U-Sport big man. Expect Tatham to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.
Laurier… Golden Hawks are scheduled to lose only 6’6″ Matt Chesson and 6’0″ Owen Coulthard as second-year Head Coach Justin Serresse welcomes his first true recruiting class that has garnered at least two likely regulars in 6’1″ Ali Sow, a highly-regarded scoring guard out of Ottawa Merivale and 6’8″ Ben Stevens an athletic big from Halifax Grammar and the Nova Scotia Provincial team. Freshman sensation 5’10” Tevaun Kokko, an OUA All-Star, is scheduled to return as one of the top creators in the conference while 6’3″ Shamar Burrows also comes off a solid freshman season. The addition of Sow provides another get-to-the-rim scoring threat while 6’0″ Matt Minutillo became a pleasant surprise as a freshman, complementing his athletic backcourt mates. Hawks are excited about the addition of another tough, scrappy, high IQ guard in 6’2″ freshman Goran Veselinovic (Hamilton) who played for ex-Carleton Raven Victor Raso at Cardinal Newman High this past season. Maybe the most improved front court player in the country last season was 6’7″ Vlad Matovic, who authored several dominant rebounding efforts and took a huge step toward all-conference status with his play at both ends. 6’7″ Nick Broady was another revelation in the front court, moving into the starting lineup in November as a freshman from B.C. before fracturing his wrist causing the promising four-man to miss the remainder of his freshman season. 6’2″ Chuder Teny is a veteran who shoots the ball. The staff is also high on 6’6″ Jack Demaree, an above-the-rim finisher who has the athleticism and skill set to be a solid “3” man in the league and should mature as his body fills in. 6’9″ Jordan Kenning a local product will likely need time to mature into a solid true U-Sport five man. Laurier is likely to bring in at least one more impact player as the recruiting season moves into the summer months.
Waterloo… Arguably the most improved team in the OUA from mid-January to the end of the season, the Warriors catapulted into the playoff race late, staying in it until the final weekend of the season behind rapid maturation of their Big 3 recruits: 6’7″ Nedim Hodzic, 6’5″ Justin Hardy and 6’3″ Simon Petrov, who with his play down the stretch showed the potential to become a 1st team all-star type guard by the time his career is said and done. Coach Justin Gunter‘s team quickly becomes very young however with the loss of three key seniors in 6’2″ Jon Ravenhorst, 6’4″ Ben Davis and 6’5″ Mike Pereira, all of who contributed to Waterloo’s success last season. Beyond Waterloo’s three rising sophomores, key returnees include 6’8″ Spanish import third-year wing David Ramon Prados and 6’6″ 4th year forward Kristian Vande Kemp. Gunter is also encouraged that 6’2″ rising sophomore Korbil Gany, who was a rotation guy last season before sustaining a bad concussion in early January, will return as a combo guard – Gany had 16 points in a summer NCAA game against Northwestern State. Redshirt 6’0″ shooting guard Colin Connors (transfer from Brock) has a chance to be a steady, feet set long-range shooter at this level and should contribute. Gunter also attracted at least four new recruits from high school led by 6’10” Evan Rodenburg (OFSAA Finalists Cambridge St. Benedict’s), a strong (300 lbs.) post with solid footwork and good hands who Gunter believes will be a main rotation guy from Day One, especially in light of the loss to graduation of OUA leading rebounder Pereira. Complementing the new big man is 6’7″ lefty Cameron Penner (#43 NPH/Collingwood, ON), a physical banger who is a true grade 12 grad, just turning 18 this summer. Rodenburg’s teammate from St. Benedict’s 6’2″ Justin Malnerich is another high IQ, coaches son who can knock shots down. Waterloo has also announced 6’2″ Muyang Iluya who is also a high-end recruit for the Warriors football program and is more likely to concentrate on the gridiron. The sturdy linebacker/safety type may end up finding a role with the hoops squad but certainly not at least until after football season is done.
Guelph... Coach Chris O’Rourke ordinarily played 9 or 10 guys or more during most games last season and, with numerous returning seniors and a deep group of under-classmen, expect Gryphons to continue to be a scrappy, tough defensive team that comes at opponents in waves. Guelph loses only 6’5″ Ahmed Haroon, 6’6″ Martin Popiel and 6’5″ Kingsley D’Silva from last season’s group that in ’16-’17 will be led by 6’1″ Daniel Dooley, the fundamentally sound combo guard who leads five fifth-year players back including 6’1″ Jonathan Wallace, 6’4″ Andrew Grant, 6’2″ Drew Walford and 5’11” Taylor Boers. A pair of rising second-year guards 6’1″ Jordon Sobot and 6’0″ Craig Valeriote showed progress in their rookie seasons to develop into legitimate OUA back-court talents. O’Rourke is most excited about 6’5″ Aaron Nugent, a promising young wing who dealt with injuries last season but is healthy. The core of their post presence is also young led by 6’8″ Sean Carey and 6’6″ Banky Alade. Guelph has announced two recruits thus far: 6’4″ Rasheed Weekes (Mississauga St. Francis Xavier) and 6’7″ forward Yamin Ben Mireault-Dibanda from CEGEP Lennoxville-Champlain. Expect the Gryphons to announce shortly at least two more additions including a potential impact big man.
Lakehead… Thunderwolves must replace their three best and most experienced rotation guys in 6’5″ OUA All-Star Bacarius Dinkins, 6’5″ Alexandre Robichaud and former all-star 5’11” Henry Tan, representing 95 minutes of starting talent. But the roster has some emerging young talent sprinkled in with others who gained experience this past season to add to core returnees 6’1″ Mor Menashe, 6’2″ Nick Burke and perimeter-stretching wing 6’3″ Kache Kopec. Head Coach Manny Furtado was encouraged by the late season play of 6’2″ rising sophomore Nahshon Hurst (Bill Crothers) who provided big minutes down the stretch and the return from injury of 6’5″ Quincy Johnson, who missed all of last season, which will boost the front line. 6’1″ Darnell Curtain (Hamilton Saltfleet) is a three-point threat off the bench while 6’4″ Mike Theodore will also help eat up space in the paint. 6’6″ post Noel Jones transfers in from uOttawa and his experience will be an asset. A pair of little-used freshmen last season, 6’5″ Kingsley Campbell-Olsen and 6’0″ Tarik Smith-James hope to be in the mix also. Furtado expects to announce at least two new recruits within the next month including an experienced scoring guard and a freshman wing from GTA.
Western… The promising rebuild continues in London and progress has already been made, epitomized by the tremendous second half that the young Mustangs had this past season – to wit, Mustangs were one double-OT loss from qualifying for the playoffs. Certainly a solid foundation exists in the back-court with 6’0″ Eriq Jenkins and 6’1″ Omar Shiddo; the athletic pair allowed coach Brad Campbell to be more aggressive defensively on the perimeter and Jenkins was the OUA leader in steals last season. Underrated and maturing point guard 6’0″ Nikola Farcic continues to evolve as a scoring point guard and remains a strong pass-first lead guard. 5’10” Tyler Thomson struggled with a high ankle injury sustained early last season that refused to heal, limiting his progress as a freshman; the tough, fundamentally-sound guard is healthy now. Mustangs have added another athletic scoring point guard in 6’0″ Romeo Kabongo, originally from Hamilton (Wildcats club team) who spent this past season at Erie First Christian Academy in Erie, PA and ’15-’16 at Mississauga’s Clarkson S.S. Kabongo loves to get out and run and adds another athlete to the lineup defensively. Campbell also expects experienced contribution from 6’1″ Kayon Mayers, a transfer from Cape Breton who missed all of last season after he blew out his patella tendon in a pre-season scrimmage. Mayers, originally from Mississauga Loyola who played his final season of high school ball at Boston Trinity Academy in 2010-11, last played in 2014-15 for Capers, averaging 7.4 ppg. Mustangs have upgraded on the wing with 6’4″ Marko Kovac, the transfer from Windsor who has stepped in and taken on a leadership role already given his post-season experience with the Lancers. Kovac projects initially as an undersized stretch 4 and looks to mature into a player who can defend the “3”. 6’7″ freshman Julian Walker, originally from Barrie Innisdale who spent last season at Brantford’s TRC Academy-Hill basketball (former home of legendary high school program Brantford St. John’s College) is another long, athletic wing forward who could help wreak havoc defensively. 6’1″ Alex Coote returns as a pure shooting wing along with 6’4″ Jedson Tavernier with both representing much of incumbent senior leadership now that 6’1″ Eric McDonald, Mustangs only roster loss, has graduated. Up front 6’5″ stretch 4 Cam Morris had an uninterrupted year from an injury perspective and showed the promise he came to Western with out of high school. 6’5″ Ian Smart produced depending upon his match-ups inside. At the center spot, Campbell expects 6’10” 250 pound freshman Jacob van Santen (Vancouver St. George’s) to push incumbent 6’9″ Alex Otzyv for time at the five spot. van Santen, who had a 38-point, 19-rebound game last season in high school, is a huge, space eating body in the paint with good hands and mobility. Mustangs expect to sign at least one more new face as the roster gets deeper and much more competitive.
Algoma… Coach Thomas Cory continues to make his Thunderbirds squad competitive but will have to replace two starters: leading scorer 6’0 Sean Clendinning and 6’4″ Adam Benrabah as well as reserve 5’10” Jacob Clendinning. Still, Algoma returns their promising pair of Kitchener St. Mary’s grads entering their third season in 6’3″ Nathan Riley and 6’1″ Jermaine Lyle as well as impact 6’7″ big Reng Gum. 6’3″ Cailum White also returns for his fifth season and 6’1″ Detroit, MI native Ian Nash, who joined the team for the second half of last season (6.4 ppg in about 14 mpg) should help. Another U.S. import, 6’5″ Elijah Butler (Honolulu, HI), averaged 6.0 ppg in 14 mpg last season. Others expected to contribute include little-used reserves 6’0″ Taylor Smith, 5’10” Nik Zorcic and 6’0″ Toronto native Damian Okungbowa. Coach Cory advises that the program is close to having three players commit in the next couple weeks with size at both forward spots a key area of need.