Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Resurgent Axemen again among AUS favorites

After shocking the nation two seasons ago with a program-defining victory in the CIS National semi-final at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place against host and five-time defending champion Carleton (one of the greatest CIS games ever played), the Acadia Axemen were indeed "back" as Nationals contenders. Unfortunately the program had some churn in their coaching situation as Les Berry resigned early in the season and Acadia suffered a quarter-final loss to eventual AUS champion Dalhousie Tigers last season but may have uncovered the next star of their program in the process. Still, opportunity bread success as Stephen Baur, who took over early last season as head coach and led Acadia to the playoffs, had his interim tag removed in May and proceed to re-fill his roster with at least three blue-chip recruits.

In 6'3" sophomore Casey Fox, Acadia may have their next star, especially after his 32 point performance in his first-ever game at the Halifax Metro Center against Dal in the AUS quarter-final loss. Fox went head-to-head with Dal's POY candidate Simon Farine before fouling out with his career high in points. Fox, named AUS Rookie-of-the-Year and CIS All-Rookie team after last season, has consistent shooting range beyond the arc and can create his own shot off the dribble. The slick shooting wing, who spent a season at Lee Academy in Maine after high school in Nova Scotia, became the focus of the Axemen offense as the season progressed and will look to continue to be the orchestrator and finisher.

The Axemen also return their leading scorer from last season, 6'5" Alex Traikov, an all-AUS second team performer now in his 5th year. Taking over major minutes in the post after former AUS all-star Leonil Saintil left the team early last season, Traikov flourished as the feature guy, despite being a bit undersized. Traikov makes up for his lack of size with strength, working well on the glass and around the paint, using his pattened hook to get shots off over bigger guys. Expect Traikov to again log major time up front.

Acadia's 2008 recruiting class yielded a second blue chip recruit who also was named to the all-AUS rookie team in 6'5" Justin Boutilier (Niagara Falls A.N. Myer), who can score in a variety ways. As with Fox, Boutilier finished his freshman season strong, as his numbers rose dramatically into March. Expect Boutilier to continue on the path of an all-AUS contributor.

Off the bench up front is 6'5" Joe Nwabuzor, a two-sport (football & basketball) athlete now in his fifth season who for the first time this summer focused exclusively on basketball and as a result bigger things are forecasted for his game.

Baur had significant losses due to graduation from last season, led by 6'0" Nationals hero Peter Leighton, 6'4" forward Luckern Dieu and 6'3" wing James Burke. All three played key roles in last season's rotation. In addtion, 6'0" Marcel Hyde (Toronto), a freshman last season, has moved on to Algoma University of the CCAA. Baur was more than able to replace these players with one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, highlighted by three five-star-type recruits in: 6'9" Owen Klassen, a power forward from Kingston, ON; 6'4" combination guard Anthony Sears, who scored over 1,100 points as a high school senior (~30 ppg) and a hidden gem in 6'5" French import Jonathan Kamba.

Klassen, who was important enough to Acadia to bring out "We want Owen" t-shirts worn by Acadia fans during his recruiting visits to Wolfville, was heavily courted by several teams in his native province and is a versatile forward who should create matchup problems given his ability to face up and score with his back to the basket. Expect Klassen to immediately push for a starting role.

Sears, a combo guard from New Brunswick, is a tremendous athlete, who is a scorer (over 1,100 points his final year of high school ~30 ppg) but can also run the point. He is also a proven winner, being part of a NB provincial championship in his Grade 11 season. Given Acadia's lack of quality depth at the guard spots, expect Sears to move into the rotation almost immediately.

In Kamba, Acadia gets a great athlete who was a relative unknown prior to last season after arriving from France at Ecole Secondaire Nepisiguit in Bathurst, NB, where he averaged 26 points a game while being named to the North East Atlantic All Star team. Kamba spent several years in the French club programs and in 2004 was named most improved player in the Under-15 French Championships. Described as an extremely skilled slasher who can create for himself and others routinely, Kamba completely dominated New Brunswick Division II high school and his international experience in another of the many reasons why some believe he may be Acadia's best recruit of all.

Two other recruits, Alex McLaughlin and Dustin Poirier will also join the Axemen. McLaughlin is most noted for being the younger brother of SMU star Mark McLaughlin and led Dartmouth High School to Provincial semi-finals, their first trip in over a decade.

With several roster spots available, Baur believes there may be a couple of more recruits arriving on campus in the coming weeks - stay tuned.

As part of their pre-season schedule, Acadia travels to Ontario for the Naismith Classic Oct 17 weekend in Waterloo and also meets RMC and York during the weekend of Oct 31 before beginning league play on Nov 7.

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