by Kirk Jessome
Looking to find themselves on top once again, the defending AUS champion men’s basketball team is set to tip-off their 2019-20 season this weekend.
Coming off of a summer playing for team Canada at the FISU Summer Universiade in Italy, Sascha Kappos and Alex Carson are rejoining the Tigers with a wealth of new experience at the highest level of university basketball one can reach.
Coming to the Tigers as a strong presence in the paint, Kappos has spent his time at Dal developing an outside game to go along with his interior play. Adding a very nice catch-and-shoot corner jumper to his arsenal, Kappos is able to force defenders to honour that shooting ability to create space for his teammates. Carson has continued to do what he has done since his rookie season, which is shoot the mid-range and three-point shots at an extremely high percentage. Carson led the Tigers in scoring last year and is on track to repeat that performance again.
Last season also saw the emergence of Keevan Veinot at the point guard position. After splitting time in his rookie season, Veinot developed into the floor general the Tigers needed to run the offence last year. If he can stay healthy, the Tigers offence is in good hands with Veinot at the point.
As perhaps one of the most underrated players in the AUS, the play of Xavier Ochu is an instrumental part of the Tigers success. As one of the best rebounding guards in the conference, Ochu is at the heart of the Tigers defence, leading the team in both steals and rebounds, while still managing to get out in transition for fast-break opportunities last year. He’ll be a key player to watch this season.
In the hopes of helping out Ochu on the glass, the Tigers have added graduate-transfer Brent Martindale to the roster this season as a strong defensive presence in the paint.
The Tigers have also reinforced their interior presence with this season’s rookie class. Kendall Saunders will join the team after playing for the Cornerstone Christian Academy in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, and the Toronto Basketball Academy last year. Saunders is a strong defensive player that has the quickness and versatility to guard multiple positions, which is needed by the Tigers guard-dominant roster.
Also joining Saunders is a familiar family name in Ben Shoveller. The ability to play in the paint, as well as building an outside game that is essential for big-men in today’s game, Shoveller is likely to make a quick impact in the conference that will continue to grow as he does.
The Tigers finished the 2018-19 season with a 14-6 record that put them in third place going into the conference championship. With big wins against UNB and Saint Mary’s in the championship tournament, the Tigers were able to claim their fourth AUS title in five years before eventually finishing fourth in the U SPORTS Final 8 Championship.
Head coach Rick Plato is pleased with his team’s performance thus far and has modest goals for the group.
“Going 10-0 all on the road is not an easy feat so I’m very pleased with our pre-season play,” he says. “I know expectations are high for us after debuting at No. 2 in the U SPORTS ranking, but my only goal at this point is that we be the hardest working team in Canada and improve each day.
If I have learned nothing else, I know that the AUS is the most competitive conference in Canada and we will have to be ready to compete every day in order to succeed.”
After an undefeated pre-season filled with tough opponents, the long road back to the Final 8 begins this Saturday as they open up their regular season against StFX at Dalplex. Tip-off is at 8:00pm.