With heavy roster turnover from graduation and injury among others, Western Mustangs Head Coach Brad Campbell faces a second half with virtually the entire roster made up of 1st and 2nd year players. Losing three starters including First team OUA West All-Star Andy Wedemire (playing in Europe), was difficult enough however the loss of veteran 6'6" forward Garrett Olexiuk to ongoing knee problems was especially difficult for this program now in transition.
Fortunately, the Mustangs do have a couple of quality players with experience, led by OUA All-Star guard Ryan Barbeau, now in his fifth and final season, and 6'8" third-year Adam Jespersen, who has again had to battle through injuries (did not play in league games in the first half). The roster churn has forced Campbell to shorten his rotation - without Jespersen, Western typically played six guys for major minutes in the first half - and more depth will have to be found to compete with the deep, athletic teams at the top of the OUA West.
Barbeau (21.6 ppg/35.7 mpg) continues to be Western's offensive catalyst and at 5'10" with his skill set, he is ideally suited to running the point and having scorers play off him - recall he was recruited as a point guard out of Belleville Nicholson H.S. However, almost immediately from the start of his career it became apparent that he is a very able scorer, so Barbeau has had a prominent role as the offensive go-to guy during his career. On this particular roster, he must make the majority of the offensive decisions with the ball and be counted on to score.
6'0" freshman Jermaine Bernard (Toronto Oakwood where he won an OFSAA championship a couple of years ago) also gets time (25 mpg) as a combo guard and the Mustangs hope he can turn into a consistent decision maker with the ball going forward as he matures and learns from Barbeau. Another stellar freshman 6'4" Ryan Higgins (native of Fergus; graduate of Guelph St. James), has been very good as a perimeter shooter and has assumed a starting role, contributing 11.1 ppg including 53% shooting from downtown. Higgins had 24 points in Mustangs win over York.
Another big wing, 6'4" sophomore Quinn Henderson (7.2 ppg/28 mpg), got off to a slow start but has parlayed his consistency on the defensive end - Campbell believes he is Mustangs top perimeter defender - into more confidence in his overall game. Henderson shrugged off the tough first couple of months with an all-star selection at the Daemon College tournament recently. Another second year wing, 6'2" Nathan DeLoreto, a hometown product of London Beal H.S., comes off the bench and contributes 7.0 ppg in 25 mpg.
Up front, one of the top players from last season's CIS freshman class, 6'5" Peter Scholtes, has continued his fine play with 15.4 ppg in 30 mpg. Scholtes has perimeter skills but on this undersized lineup is being counted upon to be a paint-area presence. Scholtes ability to use more of his perimeter skills would be enabled with the return to health of NCAA Division 1 transfer Jespersen, who was healthy in October before injuring his hand/thumb area to miss some time. Three days after returning from that injury, the 6'8" post who should be a difference maker injured his knee and did not play in any first-half league games. As of today, the timing of his return to the lineup is unknown.
Western brought in another very good freshman in 6'5" Charlie Drouin (Oakville, ON), a 3/4 man who understands how to play however missed most of the pre-season with a broken wrist. Drouin has returned to health, playing the final two games of the first half and expect him to be in the rotation for significant minutes as a freshman in the second half.
The Mustangs schedule had them playing 4 very tough road games (at Carleton, at Ottawa, at Toronto and at Ryerson) and while Western was able to defeat York, Queen's and RMC at home, a home loss to Laurentian, giving up a three at the buzzer, leave Mustangs at 3-5 going in to another tough road trip with two games this weekend in Thunder Bay against #3 Lakehead.
With a very young and undersized team (especially without Jespersen), expect Western to play alot of small ball with 4 or sometimes even 5 guys on the perimeter offensively. As this talented young group matures and stays together, Western has the makings of another strong group from several years ago that grew up together and, led by guard Matt Curtis and forward Greg Smith, made consecutive CIS Nationals appearances. This season, however, given the inexperience beyond Barbeau - even Jespersen has only part of one season of post-secondary experience playing major minutes - making the playoffs in the tough OUA West would be a significant achievement.
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