Thursday, 1 October 2009

Swords rebuilds Vees

Throughout his well-decorated career as a member of Canada's National/Olympic squad, several European professional teams and as a five-year star with Laurentian, Shawn Swords the player epitomized the "team" concept, sharing the ball, setting screens and making shots offensively and defensively taking charges, getting to loose balls, rebounding and defending with purpose. Oh yeah... and he hit a few deep, game-changing threes along the way as well. Swords the Head Coach is on the way to building the Voyageurs into his type of team: a scrappy group that defends, rebounds and consistently works on each and every possession. The Vees lost two starters, 6'2" Bryan Davidson and 5'11" Mitch Mallette, plus 6'5" veteran Alex Whiteman, from last season's team that just missed qualifying for a playoff spot but Swords was able to secure a couple of impact transfers and other freshman on the way to changing that. As his group matures and grows, expect Ben Avery Gym to again become a very tough place to play and the Vees to fight back toward the top of OUA East.

Probably Laurentian's hardest worker, 6'6" Matas Tirilis (14.4 ppg/30 mpg last season), is also their best overall player who came into the league as a relatively unheralded diamond-in-the-rough recruit and has a chance to cap a fine career with an all-star season. A nice, somewhat-undersized back-to-the-basket post for the majority of his career, Tirilis has extended his game out to the perimeter and in the Vees tradition is a scrappy, hustling big man who Swords hopes will play the majority of his minutes as a four man this season. Another fifth-year vet is the perimeter-oriented complement to Tirilis, 6'2" Paul Kovacs (12.7 ppg/27 mpg) is in what Swords describes as "the best shape he's been in since he's been here". Kovacs should continue to stretch defenses with his three point shooting and veteran savvy making decisions.

Last season's top freshman, 6'1" Andrew Lalonde, a local product from Sudbury LaSalle, looks to be the early-season favorite to start at the point where he takes care of the ball and generally can be counted upon as a sound decision maker. Lalonde's ability to improve his perimeter shooting and the requisite respect that will provide from opposing defenders will likely determine how effective he becomes as his career progresses.

Swords was very successful on the recruiting trail, attracting at least two key pieces who should start and two others who will are rotation-ready. 6'3" Isiah Pasquale, son of legendary Sudbury high schooler, Canadian National team and UVic star Eli Pasquale, transfers over from UVic is the likely starter at the two spot. Strong and savvy, Isiah will complement Kovacs and others on the wing. Another transfer 6'4" Jamie Campbell (ex-Laurier), where he played for his father Peter Campbell, is strong enough to play the 4 while shooting it well enough to play the three spot and should also push for a starting spot.

Another Pasquale, 6'4" Manny Pasquale, a freshman, is a big point guard who with his slight, lanky frame, baggy black hair and craftiness is a dead-ringer for his dad appearance-wise. It will take time for him to adjust to the CIS game, especially after a year not playing last season but Manny should grow into a top flight point as his career progresses. Providing depth at the five spot is 6'10" Rob McMurray (Guelph J.F. Ross), another typical CIS big with enough athleticism to be a factor protecting the paint as a freshman who likely needs time for his offense to catch up. McMurray has been slowed by an ankle injury but has impressed when he's been available.

There are several others who are in the mix for rotation time including 6'1" third-year two man Dave Otterbein (London Beal) who looks to knock shots down off the bench, 6'4" sophomore Jamie Weldon (Sault Ste. Marie Sir James Dunn), another somewhat-undersized four man who is a hard-working strong post but can also step out and drill 3's and 6'4" Justin Serresse, another sophomore, who is regarded as a very good defender. Justin's cousin, 6'3" Georges Serresse, a second year wing from Sudbury Notre Dame has exciting athletic ability and, as a younger, four-year high school graduate, continues to mature physically and gain experience at this level.

Also pushing for consistent roster spots will be 6'2" Stephen Williams, 6'1" Mark Ramalho and 6'7" Andrew Kay as Swords expects to go at least 10 deep every night.

Laurentian gets their pre-season started next Thursday with a trip to Montreal to face McGill followed by the two-game, two-day Concordia NIKE Invitational where they face the Stingers in the first round. Two weeks later is a trip out to Winnipeg for a four-teamer involving Manitoba, Winnipeg and Concordia. The Vees have an ambitious five-game trip out east after Christmas, facing Cape Breton and UPEI in Sydney before moving on to Halifax for the annual Rod Shovellor Memorial tournament at Dalhousie.

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