While some of the major parts have changed as the Big 3 of Showron Glover (28 ppg/35 mpg), Mike Linklater (16 ppg/34 mpg) and Troy Gottselig (13.7 ppg/28 mpg) are all gone, two top, experienced guards and a host of very good complementary players with the experience of playing for a National champion return, so this season may be one of simply re-tooling instead of re-building for the Saskatchewan Huskies, who put it all together at the right time last season, winning the Canada West Final Four including a defeat of UBC in their gym and then winning 3 straight including a semi-final win over Carleton and another victory over the Thunderbirds in the final.
Although many attribute the Huskies success to their strong backcourt last season, the underlying key was their stable of athletic and strong complementary wings and forwards, most exciting being 6'8" crowd-pleasing fifth-year flyer Michael Lieffers, who brought the house down on several occasions at the Nationals with some wicked putback and transition dunks. Expect Lieffers to play an even more prominent role this season, increasing his court time and offensive production (6.8 ppg/6.4 rpg/20 mpg last season). Another wing with plenty of skills is 6'6" Nolan Brudehl, a third year forward who can score (9.7 ppg), rebound (6.8 rpg) and defend. Both Lieffers and Brudehl will start depending upon the matchups. Also in the mix up front is 6'8" David Neufeld, in his third season who is back after a couple of years absence (see story in Saskatoon Star-Phoenix in an earlier post this morning).
Despite the key losses at the two guard spots, the Huskies arguably could be better at those positions this season with the arrival of 5'10" Jamelle Barrett, a point guard from California who played junior college basketball last season. Barrett starts and has already had a strong game in his first CIS action last weekend at Alberta, showing off his transition skills and defensive pressure. Also returning to the Huskies after a couple years absence is 6'0" Rejean Chabot, a fiery, aggressive two man who can flat out score the basketball and his experience and strength more than makes up for the loss of Linklater. Expect 6'2" Andrew Henry, one of two true freshman who made the Huskies first twelve, to back up Barrett.
On the wing, expect 6'4" fourth-year Duncan Jones to start at the 3 spot. One of the first wings off the bench should be 6'2" Trevor Nerdahl, who played 13 mpg last season and should move up into a more prominent spot in the rotation as a fifth-year veteran. Huskies have backup help at the wing from 6'0" third-year wing Tim Hollman and 6'3" third-year Patrick Burns, who are also in the mix on the wing. The second freshman to likely get time is 6'3" Ben Baker, who can play the wing.
Providing a nice physical presence up front is burly 6'8" Chris Unsworth (fourth-year) who takes over for his brother Clint who provided a similar complementary, tough rebounding-and-defending role for last season's Huskies. Expect Unsworth to get minutes when the Huskies want to slow the tempo and play more of a half court game however Unsworth can also run the floor well.
Although some feel the Huskies may not be of last season's quality, as long as the back court produces to the level of last season's and the complementary guys continue their production, Saskatchewan should contend for a home playoff game and possibly a shot at top spot in Canada West. Many already have heard that Head Coach Greg Jockims is taking a one-season sabbatical and the reigns have been temporarily handed to Barry Rawlyk, who has experience working with Jockims and is one of the more successful high school coaches in the history of Saskatchewan high school basketball. Assistant Coach Nathan Schellenberg also comes off a very successful summer coaching on Roy Rana's staff for Canada as part of the Bronze Medal winning Canadian side at the World U-18 tournament in Hamburg, Germany.