Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Veteran Warriors have big plans with senior group

Most great basketball teams with championship aspirations are built with a strong core of talented, experienced upper classmen. As such, with their seven of their top eight rotation players in their fourth or fifth seasons and the eighth ready to push for an OUA West all-star selection, many view the Waterloo Warriors as strong contenders for the OUA West crown. Further, strong, veteran guard play is usually the key to winning games in February and March; the Warriors possess a strong one/two punch of a fourth and a fifth year point guard at arguably the most important position on the floor in a season when many of their opponents in the conference will line up with very good however much younger lead guards.

All this has Warriors boss Tom Kieswetter very optimistic: "We have been developing this group for some time for this season and there is a sense of urgency to do some special things". Indeed, the Warriors knocked on the door of success last season, with quality road victories at Laval, at Windsor, at McMaster and then a road win in the OUA West quarter-finals at Guelph before falling to eventual OUA West champion Western Mustangs after leading the game late in the third quarter. Waterloo plans to make a return trip to the Nationals, a tournament they last participated in at the end of the 2004-05 season in Halifax.

Waterloo's best offensive player is 6'3" Cam McIntyre, entering his third season of eligibilty however his fourth out of high school. A long-range, sometimes-no-conscience gunner from downtown earlier in his career, McIntyre's game has matured with more reasonable shot selection and, especially down the stretch last season, the will to share the ball with more wisdom - it was no coincidence that Waterloo started winning big games on the road as a result. With continued growth, expect McIntyre to be a strong candidate for all-OUA West honours.

In 5'11" fifth-year co-captain David Burnett and 6'0" fourth-year reigning Naismith tournament MVP Luke Kieswetter, the Warriors have a pair of strong, "pass first" points who get their team into their offense and also can lead the break where appropriate. Burnett came into the league as a high-energy lead guard who could make transition opportunities work for the usually-half-court-oriented Warriors however nagging ankle injuries, especially last season, slowed the smooth guard down. A healthy Burnett, who became Waterloo's all-time leader in assists last season, will allow Waterloo to run much more this season. Kieswetter, the coach's nephew, takes very good care of the ball and generally makes solid, veteran decisions. In addition, he is an excellent, physical defender who usually checks opponent's best perimeter player.

Up front, the emergence of 6'9" Matt Hayes has been a CIS big man success story. Hayes barely got a uniform in his first season but has now progressed to the stage where he ranks as one of the better returning shot blockers in the CIS with his athleticsm and wing span. Offensively, his 10 foot face up game must now be respected and he was even drawing the occasional double team in the low blocks toward the end of last season. Expect him to be an integral part of Waterloo's offense as he finishes inside and becomes a more effective passer. 6'7" co-captain Ben Frisby (Vancouver Argyle) will likely start at the four but he is Waterloo's most versatile player, capable of stepping in at any of the 5 positions on the floor - he even ran some point guard last season. A FIBA-type forward with very good perimeter shooting and handling skills, he is the perfect complement for Hayes.

Coach Kieswetter appears to be penciling in 6'5" fifth-year forward Jesse Tipping, who began his career at Brock, as his fifth starter. Tipping suffered through a high ankle sprain injury last season but is healthy and should provide leadership and experience in big games from his days with the Badgers. He should be a strong facilitator from the big wing spot. Another FIBA-type forward, 6'5" Alan Goodhoofd, is a prototypical catch-and-shoot big man who led the Warriors in field goal percentage last season. But Goodhoofd can also get up and down the floor and to the rim with power and aggression as a series of hard dunks in various games last season showed. 6'1" fourth-year guard Jordan Hannah is the best pure shooter on Waterloo, with the ability to consistently knock down bombs from downtown when his feet are set and he gets a good look at the rim. Hannah, who fought a back injury for much of last season limiting his time, continues to evolve his game to develop a mid-range game but his primary value is shooting the ball in transition and off draw-and-kicks.

6'7" sophomore Brendan Smith, a surprise walk-on last season from Kamloops, B.C. and a former member of the B.C. Provincial team, will back up Hayes at the five spot and his value as a shot blocker has already been on display. 6'5" Tim Rossy continues to develop and hopes to push for time in the rotation.

Although the recruiting class bring much future potential, barring injuries, expect 6'3" Wayne Bridge (Toronto Eastern Commerce) and 6'4" Mark Peterson (Kitchener Forest Heights) to likely be the only two to get any significant opportunities this season what with the veteran talent available. Both have solid skills and continue to grow into their bodies. Bridge is currently fighting shin splints as he works his way into the discussion as a 2/3 who has surprised with his ability to make shots while Peterson is another 2/3 who has reasonably strong handles and also is working to get stronger. 6'0" Harrison Mair, a point guard from B.C. and their provincial team, will work to evolve into the point guard discussion as his career develops. Finally, 7'0" Owen Coutts, previously announced as a recruit who came to Waterloo to study in the academically-challenging Systems Design Engineering program, found the academic workload challenging to balance with basketball and decided to focus completely on his degree.

The Warriors have filled their pre-season with challenging matchups including a six-game in nine-day stretch when they host their Naismith tournament (Toronto, Acadia and Manitoba) and then travel out to the west coast to play three more games against top Canada West competition including CIS national finalist UBC T-Birds and Canada West Final Four participants Trinity Western Spartans. Coach Kieswetter always has his group ready to play, especially offensively, early in the season and hopes to be able to find a 10 man rotation to allow Waterloo to play more up tempo. However, even with his first eight alone, expect Waterloo to be at or near the top of the OUA West standings.

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