Shoveller Thoughts by Bill MacLean
Panthers Are Legitimate
Tim Kendrick's Panthers are legit. A disappointing performance versus Dalhousie in the Bronze Medal game aside, UPEI looked very good at the Shoveller. Depth and foul shooting could be an issue in close battles as the season progresses but they probably have the best starting five in the conference and a 1-3-1 zone defense that is pretty effective and allows them to save some energy.
Manock Lual is looking like a man posessed after suffering through several years of Panthers mediocrity and appears to be relishing his fifth season with a top tier team. Fellow fifth year senior Jonathan Cooper is playing the best basketball of his career and Jermaine Duke is a shot blocking machine. The addition of Donathan Moss has given UPEI another superb athlete and a presence on the offensive glass, not to mention a guy who shoots the three at a high percentage.
Expect the Panthers to be a lock for the Final Four at AUS Championships and a contender for a first round bye.
Bol Kong Makes Highly Anticipated Debut
One of the intriguing storylines of the tournament was the debut of highly balleyhood recruit Bol Kong from Vancouver. Kong played a season at Gonzaga in the NCAA where he averaged 5 ppg and at one time was thought to be a shoe-in for the NBA.
Kong sat out the semi final game with an ice pack on his knee so his health could still be an issue when AUS regular season play resumes. On opening day versus a very good Ottawa team, Kong was either moderately impressive or slightly disappointing depending on who you talk to. Critics will point to his 1-7 shooting performance from beyond the arc and his travel in the backcourt trying to navigate some token Gee Gee's pressure.
Proponents will remind you that the one three pointer he hit tied the game and forced overtime, and the X-Men came back from a 41-28 defecit with Kong getting extensive time on the floor.
Kong certainly looks the part at 6'7" and 220 pounds and he seemed comfortable being the center of attention. He reminds me of Lamar Odom as a big burly shooting guard who has wonderful vision on the drive after drawing the defense. Kong created several easy baskets for teammates off penetration and seemed to have an instant chemistry with leading scorer Jeremy Dunn.
Kong certainly adds an extra weapon to a stocked arsenal of X-Men talent and gives them a different look when he's on the floor. The biggest question surrounding Kong isn't if he'll be able to gel with teammates, but if he'll be able to stay healthy for two months.
Dissapointing Weekend For Acadia
Steve Baur may think twice before booking his Acadia Axemen for the Rod Shoveller next year. Acadia had a miserable weekend in Halifax; getting routed by UPEI, losing to Ottawa on a buzzer beating half court heave from Warren Ward, and then having to play RMC at 9:00 am on the final day (Acadia won 115-27)
Alex McLaughlin has reportedly left the team after going from being a starter last year to bench duty, and Justin Boutilier has decided to pull the plug on the season due to injury.
The Axemen have a talented starting five, and Anthony Ashe has been a welcome addition as an outstanding athlete who can defend. Owen Klassen banged his shoulder in the opener versus UPEI but played the rest of the weekend so he should be okay. Anthony Sears continues to battle inconsistency but when focused is a dynamic guard who can match anybody in the conference.
Acadia has a very favourable schedule in January with home games versus CBU and SMU, then on the road at UNB and Memorial. Chances are good the Axemen will get back on track and avoid a horrific second term stretch like last season.
Terry Thomas Named Tournament MVP
Despite struggling with turning the ball over, a probem that has plagued him all season, Terry Thomas was named MVP of the Rod Shoveller.
Thomas was the most exciting player over the weekend, and has developed into the best open court player in the AUS. Thomas is nearly unstoppable in transition either with teammates or by himself going against 2-3 defenders.
In only his second year, the East Preston native is averaging 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 steals a game.
As Coach Steve Konchalski closes in on win number 800, obviously he has coached alot of amazing basketball players. But if Thomas continues on the pace, or even improves throughout a five year career, he could end up being the greatest to ever lace 'em up in Antigonish.
Ritchie Kanza Mata Breaks Out
There's good news for Tiger's fans despite the team's dissapointing loss to Concordia in the semi finals. John Campbell's prize recruit, Richie Kanza Mata, looks like a good one.
Kanza Mata played extensively on the weekend on route to garnering a tournament all star selection after scoring 24 points in the semis and a 16 point, 11 assist, 7 rebound performance versus the Panthers and their dynamic backcourt.
The emergence of Kanza Mata brings hope to the defending AUS champions as they struggle to find an identity after the graduations of Simon Farine, Joe Schow, and Sandy Viet.