Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Roster turn around continues for Baker, growing Varsity Reds

Head Coach Brent Baker begins his second season at UNB with the Varsity Reds and their slick new logo, continuing the roster transformation he began after taking the reigns in April, 2008. Although Baker had little time to recruit for last season, UNB did get a pair of freshmen who played major minutes last season so their is young talent in the program. Baker's first full recruiting class this season brings another three or four rotation-ready players including a potential program changer down the road as UNB looks to push back into the playoff picture in the AUS.

In Baker, UNB has a veteran of Atlantic Canada basketball and a former Canadian national team player. Just prior to joining the Reds, Baker led the St. FX women’s team for two years and also had worked with legendary X head man Steve Konchalski as an assistant for X's men's team, playing a key role in X's march to the 2005-06 AUS championship title and CIS national semi-finals.

The Reds finished last season at 3-17 in the AUS and afer starting 0-9, UNB generated some momentum from winning their first league game on the road at Acadia followed by a win over Memorial that stoked some optimism. Unfortunately, Reds top big man 6'6" Colton Wilson was injured in the second game against MUN (a loss) and, although Wilson only missed one game, the Reds could not recover, finishing the season losing nine of their last 10.

The veteran forward Wilson, entering his 4th season after averaging just under 13 ppg last season, is one of five Reds who Coach Baker leaned on for major minutes especially down the stretch. Wilson is Reds best back-to-the-basket post threat and can also step outside to knock down 3's. 6'0" shooting guard Dustin Anthony (North Bay, ON) who averaged 12 ppg as a freshman, is the Reds chief returning threat from downtown, however Anthony will be sidelined until at least November 1st while on academic probation. The other jewel recruit from last season was 6'0" Antwann Parks, a native of Queen's, NY, who learned by fire getting the bulk of the minutes at the point as a freshman in the AUS. 6'3" Michael Anderson, entering his 5th season, led the team in scoring at 14.5 ppg while 6'4" Alex DesRoches enters his third season with two seasons of battle-tested experience as an undersize post and works hard on the glass (second in AUS in offensive rebounds last season). 6'7" Lonzell Lowe from Brampton, ON, a freshman last season, will not be back nor will 6'0" Adam Creaghan.

Baker had a solid first full-year recruiting class this season beginning with plucking a potential high impact recruit from downtown Toronto in 6'3" guard Gamachu Ibrahim from Central Commerce, for who there are several YouTube highlight packages available. The slender guard/wing will look to play off rising sophomore point guard Parks in what is developing into an athletic backcourt and his game should develop even further as he is able to add muscle to his currently-lean frame. Adding more depth to the guard spot is solid 6'0" Patrick Kalala, a transfer from Loyalist College in Belleville, ON, who brings experience and is solid across many areas including taking care of the ball, defending and finding people. Kalala was a teammate of Ibrahim at Central Commerce in high school before spending one season at Loyalist where he averaged 10 ppg.

Continuing his recruiting success in Ontario, Baker also brought in a quality high school big man in versatile 6'6" Colin Adams, who averaged 20 ppg/10 rpg at Peterborough (ON) Collegiate last season. Adams, an honours student with a strong work ethic, has already shown he can knock down perimter jumpers and given the Reds need for size, should work into the rotation almost immediately. 6'8" Mattias Zankpe from traditional southwestern Ontario power Sarnia Northern, a program which traditionally plays a very competitive tournament schedule, adds size and a 6'10" wing span. Expect Zankpe to develop like many initially-raw CIS bigs, honing his physical skills before becoming productive toward the middle and latter parts of his career.

Baker certainly did not ignore New Brunswick as he was also able to keep one of the best pure shooters in the province at home with the commitment of 6'1" Dan Quirion of Moncton, who has range beyond the three point line and had a 48 point game in a club tournament championship game this past season. Quirion held his own against touted Acadia recruit Anthony Sears in three games this past season and Baker expects Quirion to possibly push for a starting spot.

Waiting in the wings is home-town point guard 5'11" Andy Wright, a sure fire rotation player at the lead guard spots who will be eligible on December 1st after transfering from Bishop's. Wright is the perfect complement to Parks at the point, a pass-first, shoot-second point guard with great skills and decision-making prowess.

The Reds remain a very young work-in-progress, especially given their comparative lack of size, however it appears that Baker is patiently putting together the building blocks for a group that will remain together for several seasons and mature into a very good team. Qualifying for the playoffs this season remains a challenge however expect UNB to be much more competitive and add to their win total from a season ago.

In the pre-season, UNB will host their annual Eric Garland Tournament during the Thanksgiving Day weekend (UNB, St. FX, UQAM and Lee Academy from Maine) and also visit Antigonish for the annual St. FX Invitational. Later, the Reds visit Ontario to play in Kingston against both Queen's and RMC.

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