Coach Serresse and men’s basketball team win Naismith Classic in their return to the court
The Laurier Golden Hawks men’s basketball team put together a perfect performance this past weekend in Waterloo, winning all three of their exhibition games and capturing the championship at the annual Naismith Classic tournament.
After nearly 600 days away from competition, Laurier didn’t miss a beat as they dominated their competition in three non-conference games, winning the pre-season tournament for just the second time in its 52-year history.
“Good vibes,” Head Coach, Justin Serresse said of the weekend, while also applauding the energy and excitement for the team.
“The excitement from our players was great. I didn’t really have any expectations going into the weekend and I think that unloaded some of the nerves and stress,” Serresse said.
“The expectation was just to go out there, be ourselves and have fun doing it,” he noted, after so many months removed from on-court competition.
In their first game action since losing in heartbreaking fashion two years ago in the semi-final against Western, Laurier looked dominant. The Golden Hawks defeated Ryerson, Humber and Ontario Tech in three days, with a victory margin of over 15 points in each contest.
“We’ll take the great weekend but it’s only one weekend out of the many more coming up,” Serresse said.
Two-time OUA All-star and All-Canadian, Ali Sow was able to lead the Hawks as he so often does, averaging 23.3 points over the three games, including 30 points against Ryerson. The superstar guard comes into the season as one of the best players in the country and will be relied upon heavily, with Laurier missing some core pieces of their 2020 team.
With the start of the 2021 shortened, 16-game season exactly two weeks away, the tournament gave the Hawks their first opportunity to look at many of their fresh faces, as the team adjusts to a roster noticeably different than the makeup of that from 20 months ago.
Laurier is one of many teams across the OUA who have seen their student-athletes graduate in 2020 and 2021. Over that time, each program across the league has introduced two new recruiting classes, who will experience OUA competition for the first time this season, following the cancelled year.
Serresse’s 2021 team will feature a mix of veteran student-athletes, as well as new Golden Hawks. Ali Sow will finally have the opportunity to play with his brother, Ismael Sow, who joined the program as a recruit in the summer of 2020.
Ismael is one of many fresh faces, along with Ethan Passley, Josh Stephens and KJ Massela, who should earn minutes in the rotation. Serresse is not worried about the challenge to team chemistry and has been impressed by the intensity at practice as the team prepares for the upcoming season.
“The compete level has been good, they look ready to play and we believe in all of our players,” he said.
“Ali and the leaders do a great job trusting the new faces… we’re grateful for the fact that we have young players who have a lot of talent, who are willing to do everything to help us win and I think that showed this weekend.”
The team has high expectations entering the season after two consecutive OUA semi-final appearances and a buzzer-beater away from the provincial championship in the previous season.
This upcoming year will be unique for many reasons, given the pandemic and changes to the schedule and divisions. Serresse is focused on a game-by-game approach rather than looking at the bigger picture and setting expectations, as all schools will have some growing pains after so much time off.
“I think we’ve made the mistake in the past, thinking too much [about the] big picture … I’m not putting pressure on the team to think about that right now,” he said of expectations.
“Obviously we want to win every game and go as far as we are capable of but the dynamic of the season can be so messed up, not just with injuries, but with everything else that we can’t control,” citing the pandemic and other “curveballs” that the world has thrown us the past 20 months.
The Golden Hawks will play two more exhibition games later this month, before opening their season in St. Catherine’s against the Brock Badgers two weeks from tonight. Their home opener will be three days later against the Badgers at the Athletic Complex.