Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Laval: Star-studded group comes together in 2nd half

Opposing coaches have sung his praises, terming him "unstoppable" and "maybe the toughest matchup in the country". Throughout the season, his coach matter-of-factly reports on "another usual double double" effort from his star. But much of the rest of the country knows comparatively little about Laval's 6'7" Quebec Player-of-the-Year J.P. Morin, the Gatineau, Quebec native who is one of several players making a Nationals homecoming back to the Capital Region. Morin transfered back home after a season at Central Connecticut State, an NCAA Division 1 program, and upon his return was billed as the next great Laval star following in the footsteps of greats like Samuel Audet-Sow and Charles Fortier, who had led Laval to 4 consecutive Nationals tournaments between 2000 and 2004. In his final season in Ste. Foy, Morin returned from an injury-plague 2006-07 to lead le Rouge et Or back into the Final 8 after a 3 year absence with an opportunity to lead Laval to their first-ever CIS championship. Morin is a factor at both ends, scoring with his back to the basket and from beyond the arc, and rebounding and blocking shots on the defensive end. This season's group has provided Morin with talented support including 6'3" J.F. Mahieux-Beaulieu, last season's CIS Rookie-of-the-Year, who is one of the smoothest shooters in the country capable of going off at any time as his 41 point explosion (including 10 for 13 from 3 point land) late in the season at Concordia attests. Laval had one of the top recruiting classes in the country led by 5'8" Xavier Baribeau, the diminutive point guard who was QSSF Rookie-of-the-Year this season and is skilled on the break finding teammates and 6'4" former CCAA All-Canadian Jerome Turcotte, who had a somewhat-inconsistent freshman season based on expectations but can score, rebound, pass and defend. Up front, 6'8" Marc-Andre Cote was having his finest season after missing much of last year due to injury when he slipped on some ice about a month ago and suffered a concussion that seemingly was to sideline him for the season. Cote made a dramatic comeback and was a vital cog in Laval's pair of dominant playoff wins, leading the team in rebounding in both games. Another underrated and somewhat-undersize forward, 6'4" F.O. Gagnon-Hebert is a presence inside, rebounding and defending without concern for how many offensive touches he gets. While Laval has offensive threats at the point, on the wing and inside, the team really didn't start their impressive streak of 14 wins in their last 15 games until there was a recommittment at the defensive end. Historically, successful Laval teams have aggressively pushed up on the ball defensively and looked to create turnovers with pressure on and off the ball. Le Rouge et Or gave up only 67 points per game down the stretch, ordinarily keeping teams under 70. This is a dangerous team which, if they can make free throws, keep teams off the offensive glass and keep their Big 4 out of foul trouble, have every opportunity to advance deep into the tournament. Although Laval was not ranked early in the season, le Rouge et Or did split with tournament participant Brock Badgers and lost a close 3 point, overtime affair to Saint Mary's, so they can play with anyone. And having one of Canada's top players in Morin, coming home for the final games of his career, could put them over the top.

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