Walk on by, Redmen, walk on by
Phenomenal talent. Quality depth. Defensive prowess. More chemistry than a lab full of Bunsen burners. A few big guns. A walk-on point guard from the Philippines.
What’s not to like about the McGill Redmen?
Heck, in an era in which coaches are scouring the dingiest and most dimly-lit gyms for somebody, anybody, who can play the point, sixth-year Redmen coach Dave DeAveiro had 6-1 Jenning Leung, a potential Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec all-star, just wander through the door from Los Banos, Laguna.
Such are life’s enduring mysteries.
And such are McGill’s skills that coaches around the country say they have excellent chance of garnering the RSEQ’s first national title since 1998, when Bishop’s accomplished the task. Along with a berth at the 54th Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships to be held at the University of British Columbia next March, the Redmen should garner their fourth consecutive RSEQ regular season title and third postseason crown in four years, the coaches say.
Leung will be joined in theMcGillstarting rotation by first-team all-stars François Bourque and Vincent Dufort, along with second-teamer Dele Ogundokun. Jawara Pedican slots into the off-guard spot.
Off the deep bench come such assets as Laurentian transfer and OUA second-team all-star Tychon Carter-Newman, former starter Michael Peterkin, Noah Daoust and New York-born point guard Andrew Peterson. Depth at the point will also come from Oshawa rookie Isaiah Cummins.
“It’s probably the deepest team I’ve had at McGill and probably the most athletic team, so we’re able to do a few things we haven’t done in the past,” says DeAveiro. “It gives you some options for doing things, so you’re not as predictable.”
“We have to continue to grow as a team, understand our roles and execute our roles,” adds DeAveiro. “We’ve always been one of the top defensive teams in the country. We don’t want that to change. But just offensively, we need to be more consistent.”
With Ogundokun starting to demonstrate that he’s a game-changer, Leung effectively attacking off the dribble, Bourque and Dufort patrolling the paint, and all manner of shooters on the wings, the Redmen present a pick-your-poison challenge for foes that aren’t capable of defending at every position.
Meanwhile, fresh off a three-week, all-expenses paid trip to China, theLavalRouge et Or are hoping that the professional competition they faced when they weren’t walking the Great Wall prepared them to make a run at a national tourney berth long expected of this talented but puzzling team.
The Rouge et Or feature first-team all-star point guard Karl Demers Bélanger, who’s had the best assists-to-turnover ratio in the league for three consecutive campaigns, last year’s rookie of the year Alexandre Leclerc, and three-time second-team all-star Thibaud DeZutter, who spent the summer crossing the North on Canada’s arctic research icebreaker. The squad will also start off-guard Laurier Beaulac-Dufresne and 6-6 forward Charles-André Edorh. Thierry Frédéric provides depth on the wing, while post Daniel Mutanda returns from a year spent recovering from an inexplicable inflammation of his leg.
That’s ample ammunition to make a run at the RSEQ crown and after the past few campaigns, the Rouge et Or are hungry for better results, says coach Jacques Paiement Jr. “The guys know the system and the guys are a little tired of not winning as much as we should, me included. ... We’re due to get it done.”
To that end, most of the squad spent the summer toiling in a local league, Paiement adds. “The guys, I think, realized that we needed to do more, and they’ve done it.”
Nate Philippe abandoned an assistant coaching position at the leafy campus of American University in the tony northwest quarter of Washington, D.C., to assume the helm at theUniversité du Québec à Montréal, where retiring coach Olga Hrycak was gracious enough to ensure that the cupboard remained relatively well-stocked.
Although first-team all-star Alexandre Bernard graduated, second-teamer Davidson Joseph returns, as does former Quebec colleges all-star Greishe Clerjuste. Among the newcomers are former Carleton Ravens point guard Kewyn Blain and 6-10 post Rudolphe Joly from Sheridan junior college in Wyoming. Also starting is Simon Lavoie-Lavallée, while depth comes in such forms as shot-blocker Yassin Debache and Brandon transfer Jude Molin.
The Joseph-Clerjuste-Blain-Joly quartet captured the first-ever 3x3 FISU World League tournament in Xiamen, China last month, with Joly being selected the tournament MVP, and the foursome earning a berth at the FIBA 3x3 All Stars in Doha, Qatar in December.
“I feel really good about those four,” Phillipe notes. “We’re long. We’re athletic. We’re talented. ... So far, we’re beating ourselves. We have nine new guys, new offensive systems, new defensive systems, but you know, changing the culture, changing mentalities and hearts and expectations is something that’s a process.”
It’s the end of a marvelous era forConcordiawith the departure of 26-year coach John Dore, who steered the Stingers to a national crown in 1990.
Newly-minted coach Rastko Popovic notched several impressive wins in the preseason (including ones over Saskatchewan and Windsor) with a starting line-up featuring Ricardo Monge, Michael Fosu, Ken Beaulieu, Bishop’s transfer Jaleel Webb and Schneiders Suffrard, a first-team all-star in the Quebec college ranks last season while toiling for Vanier.
“We’re a young bunch learning how to play together,” says Popovic. “We’re very athletic and very versatile. … I’m big on making sure we get good shots. Obviously, shots are not going to fall in every night but good shots have a better chance of going in than bad shots. It’s making sure we’re a disciplined team on both ends of the floor.”
The Bishop’s roster was gutted by graduation, including all-stars Kyle Desmarais and Matt McLean, leaving coach Rod Gilpin to deal with “the youngest team in the country.” Indeed, the kiddie korps lists no less than 11 freshmen on the 16-man roster. Meanwhile, a 12th newcomer, Peter Weston, saw very limited minutes in two years at NCAA Division II institution St. Anselm College in Massachusetts.
Point guard Jona Bermillo will guide the wide-eyed youngsters through the league’s travails and will likely be joined in the starting line-up by some mix of Weston, Vanier College product Abdul Kamane, Champlain-St. Lambert product Nick Harvey, and third-year vet David Belanger. Among other rookies who should eventually make a splash are 6-11 post Jonah Fogg, who toiled on the 2014 national junior team that captured a silver medal at the FIBA Americas tournament in Colorado Springs.
The preseason has been an eye-opener, Gilpin notes. “Sometimes our young guys tend to relax. When you’re in high school, you can get away with that. ... We have some really good stretches but we’re not capable of sustaining that for 40 minutes, yet.”
Ah, but for coaches, that’s the rationale for more practice, practice, practice.