Sunday, 23 August 2009

Plenty of depth sets Redmen's sights on Q league crown

Although the Quebec league only goes five teams strong, lately at least 4 of the 5 teams most seasons would have been worthy representatives for the conference at the CIS Nationals. Craig Norman's McGill Redmen have been on the verge of cracking into the tournament the past couple of seasons, highlighted by a couple of weeks in the Top 10 both of the past two seasons. Although McGill lost their two top scorers in 6'3" Moustafa El-Zanaty and 6'4" Sean Anthony to graduation - representing almost 40 ppg between them - there are several rotation-worthy returnees and Norman did his usually strong work on the recruiting trail and, presto, the Redmen have at least 10 players who should see time.

In mid-November of last season, McGill was riding a 9-3 start including victories against Ottawa, Western and Toronto plus an exhibition victory at home against ACC's Virignia Cavaliers. The hot start put McGill in the early season Top 10 and set the program up for pushing toward their first Nationals tournament appearance in some time. Unfortunately, the Quebec league regular season was not kind to McGill as they finished 5-11 in the league, losing 12 of their last 18 games (which included non-conference wins over RMC and UNB) and their last 5 in a row culminated by a Q league semi-final loss to Concordia. With the losses of El Zanaty and Anthony, there will be plenty of shots available offensively for some emerging veterans and a deep, talented recruiting class to again give McGill a chance at the Q league crown.

6'4" fourth year swing man Matt Thornhill probably is the most offensively talented player of the returning vets. A former Q league Rookie-of-the-Year, the versatile Thornhill can play several positions on the floor including point forward and will be looked upon to lead this group. 6'5" Pawel Herra, also in his 4th year, projects as a starter on the wing. Herra has shown flashes of offensive brilliance at points in his career and as a senior will look to be more consistent with scoring and rebounding. 6'4" Michael White, who averaged 11.0 ppg last season in league play, will be the veteran presence in the paint area for McGill. 6'8" second year forward Greg Gaus looks to build on his freshman season and should add some depth off the bench.

At the point, the Redmen look for an almost-immediate impact from 5'10" Olivier Bouchard, a 19 year old freshman from Montmorency CEGEP, who has the makings of an all-conference guard and is talented enough to push for a starting role very early in his career. One of the incumbents at the point who should push Bouchard is 6'1" Jeff Cummings, entering his fourth year. Also in the mix in the backcourt is 6'4" fourth-year Jesse Woods (2.7 ppg in his first season with McGill last year), an American from Wisconsin doing graduate work who played his first two seasons at St. Thomas College, an NCAA Division III program. 6'2" Sebastien Gatti should also come off the bench as a 2/3.

Norman put in his usual strong effort on the recruiting trail, plucking 6'3" combo guard Winn Clark from the state of Kansas. Clark was well recruited by a number of Ivy League schools and chose McGill after Norman saw him at an Academic All-American camp in Boston last year. A pair of bigs will add depth up front, starting with 6'7" Nick Langley, originally from B.C. who spent last season playing with Canada Basketball's NEDA program in Hamilton, likely to swing between the wing and post. Langley, who can make open jumpers, represented B.C. at the recent Canada Games in PEI. Also, York transfer 6'9" Azaz Awan has entered Dental School at McGill and will be eligible to play immediately.

The Redmen are also working through some eligibility issues with former All-Canadian 6'5" Leonil Saintil who transfered to McGill from Acadia. Saintil, originally from Ottawa, has family in Montreal and is a good student who is studying French literature. The Redmen are expecting a decision how quickly Saintil can play - likely in the second semester if everying works out.

Montreal area fans will get a chance to see the Redmen in early action once again as McGill host St. John's Red Storm visit the Love Complex over the Labour Day weekend.

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