October is coming up fast, which means we get to see the men’s Ooks basketball team in action once again. The Ooks look to play the best basketball they can this season, especially around March during playoffs. With a team of mostly brand new faces and a new assistant coach, let’s see if the team can handle the madness.
Coach Mike Connolly has a solid strategy going into the season that might help them in those elimination playoff games in March.
“Our goal this year is mental toughness and defence,” Connolly said.
The team has received a new coat of paint over the summer in the way of 11 new players, with only six from last season returning. Seven of those new players are straight from high school and the rest are transfers from other colleges. All young players out of high school will be battling for a spot on the roster. Out of the seven, four will dress for games.
Third-year, All-Canadian Jackson Jacob is not with the team this fall. He is currently in the Bahamas trying out for the Bahamian National Team. Jacob will return to the Ooks to help them make a run at the Conference Championship this winter if he doesn’t make the team in the Bahamas.
Not only were new players added, the coaching staff has acquired some new faces as well. Greg Frances is one of the three new assistant coaches for the Ooks. This is a huge acquisition. Frances has a long list of achievements, including manager of men’s high performance for Canada Basketball since 2015, a NCAA Tournament appearance as assistant coach of Monmouth University and head coach of the University of Alberta in 2009. This is huge acquisition for Ooks basketball. Frances will be focusing on player development, monitoring and instructing the individual skill development of every player on the roster. Joining Frances in the assistant coaching roles are Sebastian Cava and Cam Smith, both former Ooks who were with team when they won a national championship.
Last season, the Ooks had a record of 11-1 until the Christmas break. Afterward, the team was plagued with injuries and players who weren’t used to a lot of minutes had to step up. Connolly has said that if it weren’t for those injuries, a fully healthy squad would have beaten Lethbridge easily.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Last season saw the Ooks lose to silver medalists, the Lethbridge Kodiaks, for the 2016- 2017 ACAC season in the quarter finals. The Ooks went on to the consolation finals to beat the Lakeland Rustlers in OT 79-74. This was a huge stretch from the 2015-16 season which saw the Ooks crowned provincial and national champions.
“So far in the “Grind of September” the guys have been working hard and remain focused at the goals at hand … playing our best basketball at playoff time, March,” said Connolly. “The ACAC is one of, if not the best, conference in the country.”
With this new look team, a new assistant coach and a concrete plan, the team can succeed come March. Come see the Ooks in action at NAIT Oct. 13 in their first regular season home game against the Concordia Thunder.
– Tre Lopushinsky, Sports Co-Editor