By: Mike Still
The men’s basketball team enters the 2016-17 campaign as a legitimate contender for the U Sports Final 8 Men’s Basketball Championship, and will look to defend the AUS conference title for a third consecutive season in the process.
Currently ranked fifth in a U Sports Top 10 pre-season poll, the Tigers have lived up to the hype thus far, going 9-2 in preliminary play, including a 58-54 victory against the OUA’s Ryerson Rams – the same team that beat them for the bronze medal at nationals last year. The win marked the first time any team had defeated the Rams on their home court in close to two years.
York, Brock and Concordia are three of the other teams Dalhousie has bested in the pre-season thus far, each of whom are pencilled in as impact teams in their respective conferences. Their only two losses were to McMaster and Windsor.
Two of the biggest additions to the team have been fifth-year transfer Ryall Stroud from Queen’s, as well as rookie Alex Carson out of Lower Sackville, N.S.
Stroud, a 6’7 centre who averaged nine points and five rebounds last year for the Gaels, will provide a critical presence inside the paint for Dalhousie.
Carson, a 6’5 swingman who played for Sackville High School, averaged a double-double in his senior year, including a 61-point performance in a single game. He’s already made his presence felt for the Tigers in the pre-season, with numerous double-digit performances.
The Tigers have earned a well-deserved reputation as a defensive-minded team, however with Stroud and Carson added into the lineup, their offensive prowess has been enhanced as well.
“I certainly think that we’ve added an inside offensive and an outside offensive threat with Ryall and Alex, to go along with what we already have,” says head coach and defending AUS coach of the year Rick Plato.
Dalhousie also returns several fourth and fifth-year veterans including forwards Kashrell Lawrence and Sven Stammberger, as well as guard Ritchie Kanza Mata.
Kanza Mata was an AUS first team all-star in 2015-16, after averaging 12.2 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game and 6.9 assists per game. Lawrence was an AUS second team all-star, with a team-leading 14.8 points per game. His 55.9 percent field goal percentage ranked fifth in the conference.
Stammberger started 19 games for the Tigers last year, and netted 12.9 points per game.
Jordan Aquino-Serjue, who started 12 games last season and was a member of the CIS all-rookie team, will also provide invaluable outside play.
Additionally, fifth-year guard Jarred Reid, who averaged 8.6 points per game last year, is back, along with fourth-year guard Ryan Harnett, who returns after playing last year with the Kings College Blue Devils, where he was named male athlete of the year.
With the amount of talent on the roster this year, Plato acknowledged that expectations are high, but also noted that the opposition will be stiff, as all seven teams will be pushing to take the AUS crown.
“We’re a much deeper team, a much more experienced team now,” says Plato. “We’ve got fourth and fifth-year players, most of whom have two consecutive AUS championship wins under their belts, so there’s a lot of pride on the team now. They’re going to have to work hard, because everyone is going to be gunning for them.”