Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Laval Looks to return to the Nation's Elite; Alberta Preview

One of the most consistent programs in the entire CIS since 2000 has been the Laval Rouge et Or, playing in the QSSF championship game in each of the last 7 seasons and winning 4 consecutive "Q" pennants between 2000-01 and 2003-04. Laval was a fixture at the CIS Nationals during that time, advancing to a pair of CIS Final Fours, led by 6'4" Charles Fortier, 6'8" Marc-Antoine Horth, 6'3" Dominique Soucy and 6'4" Samuel Audet-Sow. Head Coach Jacques Paiement had a streak of 6 consecutive 20 win seasons interrupted last season when his young club went 17-14 but still made the Quebec league championship game. The Rouge et Or are maturing quickly and continue to add great talent. With another stellar recruiting class, Laval expects to compete for the Quebec league championship once again this season. This season's edition is led by 6'8" All-Canadian candidate J.P. Morin, fresh off his time with Canada's Student team which won a Bronze medal at the FISU Games in Thailand. Morin is "by far in the best shape I have ever seen him in" says Paiement and will be looked upon to score and defend top players. Joining Morin up front is 6'5" F.O. Gagnon-Hebert, who came on strong toward the end of last season, gaining in confidence and skills. One of the top newcomers in the CIS should be 6'4" Jerome Turcotte, from CEGEP Saint Foy, who Paiement has described as "as good as expected if not better... we love his toughness." Laval will look to use Turcotte's ability to play at and defend any of the 1 to 4 positions on the floor. Turcotte's CEGEP teammate, 5'9" point guard Xavier Baribeau (5'9'') is another rookie who is doing as well if not better than expected. Barbeau is strong and tough, very quick, tireless and perhaps the most important thing is that he has really improved his outside shooting. Last season's CIS Rookie-of-the-Year, 6'3" J.F. Beaulieu-Maheux has battled a foot injury in the early season and has not practised consistently but he has a proven CIS offensive skill set and when healthy will be an integral part of Laval's success. Up front, 6'8" M.A. Coté is stronger, quicker and should provide Laval with a solid interior defender and rebounder while also being able to guard on the perimeter. Coach Paiement describes 6'8" Maxime Cloutier as "probably the most improved player on the squad. Like most of the players, he did work hard during the off-season and he has gained in confidence, strenght and skill." 6'6" Yves-Andre Levasseur is healthy again after a tough year with injuries last season. Paiement describes Levasseur as "a great hard-nosed team player who can really shoot it from outside." 6'0" Etienne Wilsey suffered through a back injury last season and is healthy again and will provide depth at the point with his ability to run the team and make shots. 6'4" Martin Verreault is an outstanding shooter from 3 point range and will provide depth on the wing. Another solid perimeter shooter off the bench is 6'2" Marc-Andre Lefebvre. As reported here during the summer, Laval has brought in 6'9" Kevin Crevant from France who Coach Paiement describes as "doing very well... he is adjusting to a different brand of basketball and working hard on his overall strength. He improving steadily and will certainly help us somewhere down the road." As well, Etienne Labrecque is sitting out this season but working as hard as anybody. Laval opens their CIS pre-season during the weekend after Thanksgiving at the Mickey Place Memorial tournament at UPEI, which is a four-team, three-day round robin affair featuring probable pre-season Top 10 side Brock Badgers, perennially strong Cape Breton Capers and the improving host Panthers.

Coming off a season in which the perennially-strong Alberta Golden Bears were upset at home in the finals of the Canada West Central division, Coach Don Horwood has good reason to be optimistic heading into 2007-08. "Much of last year's group was very new to CIS basketball (the Bears had 7 new faces in their recruiting class last year) and while the newcomers were solid athletes and successful in their previous situations, the transition to what is required to be competitive at this level from a hard-work perspective was an eye opener for many", shared Coach Horwood. "I'm pleased to say that many of those same players appear to have learned what it takes to be prepared for a season in Canada West and have really shown the maturity to become physically and mentally ready to play this season." Despite losing a pair of fifth-year seniors in 6'5" Scott Gordon and 6'4" Tyson Jones, the Bears bring back a solid core of seemingly more focused returnees and believe that they should also be mentioned with Calgary and Saskatchewan as definite contenders for their division crown. The Bears are led by 6'2" fifth-year senior Alex Steele, a 1st team Canada West All-Star last season and "one of the most dynamic players we've ever had come through our program", says Coach Horwood. Steele has always had great shooting range and is explosive off the dribble "maybe the quickest first step guy I've ever coached" adds Horwood. Steele's game is set to go to the next level this season as he improves his decision making off the dribble and has another year working with stellar point guard C.G. Morrison. 6'1" Morrison took over the point guard reigns early last season after transfering from Camosun College in Victoria and quickly established himself as one of the top lead guards in the conference with the added ability to knock down 3's. Providing more depth in a very deep and talented backcourt for Alberta is 5'10" Scott Lee, a sophomore from Vancouver Handsworth S.S. where he quarterbacked a B.C. provincial championship team in 2006. Lee has a competitive mentality and should be an asset off the bench. On the wing, 6'6" Andrew Parker could be the Bears best overall perimeter player despite battling minor injuries this fall. Horwood calls Parker "one of the hardest workers we've ever had. Andrew has put in 1-2 hours per day on his own all summer" so expect an improved perimeter jumper and better decision making from the fifth-year wing. Parker may be the best pure athlete in the CIS; word is that after throwing down 3 ally-oop slams in a game at Arizona State a couple of seasons ago, observers in Tempe called him an NBA athlete and compared his dunks to Vince Carter. Parker is ready to assume much more responsiblity in his fifth season as a scorer and defender. Another of last season's recruits, 6'5" Justin Van Loo now in his fourth season of eligibility after transfering from Capilano College has come to camp in great shape and at 260 lbs. is a big, strong and quick post player who, after a series of injuries likely caused by not being physically prepared last season, should be a major factor inside this season. Coach Horwood adds: "Justin was not in shape when last season began but has learned to work hard and has realized what you have to do to succeed." Expect Van Loo to be a factor inside for the Bears this season. Van Loo's teammate at "Cap", 6'5" Neb Aleksic is another dangerous perimeter shooter typical of most players with a European background. Aleksic was another player who appears to have responded positively to challenges and will be a key to stretching defenses off the bench for Alberta. The Bears have been known throughout the years for their tremendous post players and 6'5" third year underrated workhorse Harvey Bradford continues the tradition. Bradford is ready for major minutes and a breakout year which Alberta needs given that veteran 6'9" fifth-year post Jeff Stork is likely out for the season after tearing a muscle in his shoulder playing ball hockey toward the end of the summer. Stork's size and presence defensively will be missed. The Bears should again challenge for a division title with an array of solid guards and their traditionally strong post game. Alberta scrimmaged Grant MacEwan College last week and according to Horwood the team is "ahead of where they were at this point last year". The Bears officially open their season next Wednesday evening October 10th at 7:30 PM Mountain time when they host Athletes-in-Action, a team made up of mainly ex-NCAA Division 1 players who are sure to give Alberta a tough test. Later that week, Alberta gets an early chance to see where they stand among the top teams in Canada when they participate in the Guy Vetrie Memorial tournament at UVic, meeting the hosts as well as both defending CIS champions Carleton Ravens and defending CIS finalists Brandon Bobcats. Later in October, Alberta will host the Golden Bear Invitational featuring three Ontario teams: Ottawa, Waterloo and York.

EARL GRANT MEMORIAL GAME IN CHATHAM, ONTARIO The Windsor Lancers are very happy to announce that the program is continuing the tradition of the annual Earl Grant Memorial game in Chatham. The game is in memory of former Lancer Earl Grant who passed away suddenly several years ago shortly after graduating from the University of Windsor. This year's game will take place on October 19th and the opponent will once again be Lambton College of the OCAA. The Lancers will be hosting a children's basketball clinic at 5:00 PM ET and then the game will begin at 7:00 PM ET.

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