After first visit in over 40 years, making the nationals again is the goal for Huskies
After making the national championships last season, the first time the college has been in more than 40 years, the Huskies men’s basketball team is aiming to make it a regular trip.
For head coach Jonathan Smith, who is entering his sixth year with the team, a key part of the strategy to get there is adding some size and strength to the roster. And the team’s new recruits, most well-over six feet, have the Huskies standing taller.
“We noticed you can’t win without size at the national level, you can’t play small ball,” said Smith. “And we found we were probably one of the most athletic teams in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association last year, but at the national we could not compete on the glass rebounding with some of the teams we played and that’s been the nemesis for us for years.”
New players include two former Dalhousie University Tigers, Alex Petronis, a 6-foot-5 combo guard and Justin Bhangoo, a 6-foot-7 forward.
Petronis played for the Tigers when the team took silver in the Atlantic University Sport championships, and placed fourth at the Canadian University sports finals in 2016.
Bhangoo last played for the University of King’s College Blue Devils, where he averaged 15.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in the 2016-17 campaign.
The new recruits are flanked by veteran Huskies Matthew Bukovec, Dejazmatch James and Jordan James. The new look squad recently placed third at the Dawson Classic weekend tournament, which took place in Montreal in early October. The Huskies went undefeated during the tournament, but a tie against the hosting Blues left them out of the finals.
Last year, the Huskies lead the eastern division of the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) with a 19-1 record, with that lone loss coming at the hands of Centennial College.
The Huskies also breezed through to the OCAA championship final, before being downed by the Sheridan Bruins on a shot by Brian Owusu with less than a second left in the game.
While the team suffered a dramatic defeat at the provincial finals, they qualified for the nationals. The Huskies won their first match against Mount Allison College decisively but were outmatched for the rest of the tournament, going 1-2 and placing in the seventh spot.
Aside from the lesson in size, Smith said that after playing against older teams in the nationals it was time for the Huskies to change their recruiting tactics.
“We’ve come to the conclusion you can’t win getting players out of high school because it’s going to take them two or three years to develop physically,” he said.
But with programs at the college being one to three years, Smith said that by the time a player has matured it’s usually time for them to leave the team.
With a bigger and older roster, the team is aiming for a back-to-back national tournament appearance, a feat the Huskies haven’t accomplished since 1976.
“We’re going to push ourselves to be the best we can possibly be,” said Smith.
The Huskies open their regular season on Oct. 20 at Casa Loma against the La Cite Coyotes.