Men’s basketball flying down home stretch, into playoffs

by | Feb 10, 2023 | Sports

Ooks men’s Head Coach Jordan Baker had a conversation with his team at the start of the 2022-23 season about what it would take, to meet their goal of an ACAC championship. 

 They’ve demonstrated their dedication to that goal throughout this season. The squad sits at 11-5, which sets them up for second place in the ACAC North Division. Should the Ooks hold on to that positioning, they would get one of two North byes into the Championship round. 

Baker attributes their success to consistent daily habits.

“It’s not a flick of the switch once championship weekend hits,” Baker told the Nugget in an interview. “It’s all the habits… we’ve been building over the course of the year, and when we get to those big games, we’re used to playing hard, we’re used to playing for 40 minutes, we’re used to making sure our defensive rotations are tight.”

The Ooks have also made the NAIT Gymnasium a difficult place for opponents. 

“Our leadership group, our captains have really established [that] we want to be excellent at home, we want to take care of business here,” said Coach Baker. Only the undefeated Keyano College Huskies have been able to escape NAIT’s home court with a victory. 

Nhiall Kuech jumps up to score a basket on the basketball court.
Nhiall Kuech has been a formidable presence on the men’s basketball team. Photos by NAIT Athletics

The defense of the home court was a purposeful strategy by Baker. “When it comes playoff time, if we’re hosting a playoff game … it’s going to be a tough situation, a tough environment for people to come into, and we want to kinda get that established in the regular season, so that we’re comfortable, and expecting to win come playoff time,” he explained.

Several players have contributed to the team’s success. Benjamin Kamba and Ephraim Humilde have been sharp-shooters, leading the team in three-point percentage at 50 and 41.7 per cent respectively. Griffin Lorenz has been a superb all-around player and minute-muncher, averaging close to 30 minutes per game. Luka Korosec has earned the nickname “Croatian Sensation” for his solid two-way play and ability to make assists. Nhiall Kuech is a formidable scoring presence in the paint, and among forwards, Antonio Benjamin is strong at rebounding and preventing opponents from scoring. 

A bench of Yasser Abdullahi, Lodie Kenyi, Daniel Gann, DiAngelo Woodside, Dante Dinter, and Vishal Dhillion put an exclamation point on an Ooks roster that’s not only talented offensively, but also third-best in points allowed per game.

“Especially with some of our injuries the last couple of weeks, we’ve had some guys step up in different roles,” Baker explained. “That’s a testament to them practicing hard all year, and being prepared for their opportunities.”

The Ooks’ remaining schedule is entirely against ACAC South Division opponents, with the remaining two home games being against Red Deer Polytechnic Kings and the Olds College Broncos. The Kings are currently in position to have to go through the play-in round before getting into championship weekend, and the Broncos sit near the bottom of the standings. 

Despite the team’s strong standings, Baker isn’t expecting the team to relax.

“We’re never satisfied with where we’re at,” notes Baker. “We’ve got a bye coming up …but that doesn’t mean we’re not fine-tuning some of those details as we get into the home stretch here.”

Catch the men’s basketball team’s next game on Feb. 10 versus Red Deer Polytechnic. It’s a home game, so all the action can be watched at NAIT’s gym or on ACAC TV.

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