Uncertain road ahead for rebuilding men’s basketball

(Photo by Rose Eid)

It’s called the Hawk Challenge for a reason, and this weekend the Laurier men’s basketball team definitely faced challenges.

In the annual preseason tournament, the Golden Hawks finished 0-2 after dropping two close contests, 74-69 to the UBC Thunderbirds on Friday and 94-86 to Concordia Stingers on Saturday.

Though the record doesn’t read well, the results were promising for a young Laurier team heading into a season of uncertainty.

“Considering how many young kids were playing, we played pretty well,” said head coach Peter Campbell. “Patrick (Donnelly) played well this weekend, Max (Allin) played well this weekend and Will (Coulthard) played well this weekend and they are the three guys that have got to be playing well all the time if we are going to be good.”

The trio led the scoring in both games for the Hawks, with Allin scoring 41 points, Donnelly 34 and Coulthard 23 .

The leadership of the Hawks’ “big three” will be important for a team that has only six returning players and a boatload of freshman rounding out the roster.

Campbell joked about the amount of first years saying, “From a coach’s perspective, that’s too many.”

Aiddian Walters, Kyle Enright and Jamar Forde round out this year’s crop of returning players.

Enright was a deep scoring threat, shooting 45 per cent from beyond the arc last season. Meanwhile Forde looks to contribute more this year after missing half of last season to an ankle injury.

With the development of young players being a big focus in the upcoming season, Laurier’s competition this weekend acted as great measuring sticks. The out-of-province teams finished the weekend 2-0 after knocking off both Laurier and the Guelph Gryphons.

“I would say UBC is probably a team that’s going to be one or two in Canada West Pacific Division anyway,” said Campbell after Saturday’s loss. “And with a minute to go we were only down a point. I think that was a really good improvement.

“The same thing today [Saturday], Concordia was missing a couple of guys but they are still a veteran team with a lot of athleticism and a lot of talent.”

6’7” Laurier newcomer Matthew Chesson provided the highlight of Saturday’s game, taking a feed from Allin and throwing down a dunk that resulted in a roar from the crowd.

“I was up at the high post,” said Chesson. “Max posted up his man, my man went over for the double and the whole lane was wide open and Max has great court vision, saw me and I put it down.”

“I think Chesson has played really well in all four of our games,” said Campbell. “For a freshman big guy, big guys come along slower, he’s out of a small school in Whitby so the tempo of play and the physicality of the play is a whole new experience and I think he’s done a great job.

“You look at the dunk he put down today, it wasn’t one of the most athletic ones, but we haven’t seen many of those in this gym.”

In total, 15 players saw court time for the Hawks this weekend. Campbell noted that it doesn’t allow players to get into a good rhythm, but he was impressed with what he saw from some of his first years.

There will certainly be opportunities for these kids to contribute this year, but Chesson says he isn’t feeling the pressure.

“It’s basketball, it’s what I’ve been playing my whole life so you just have to go out there and give it your all.“

Overall, coach Campbell is excited for the upcoming year.

“I’m optimistic. I don’t think we are going to be one, two or three in the country; but we have a chance to progress through the year and have a chance to be a factor by the time it’s all over.”

The Hawks will travel to Montréal this weekend to participate in the Redbird Classic. They will face McGill, Ottawa and Trinity Western before returning home for an exhibition game against the Laurier Alumni.

Regular season action begins for Laurier Nov. 9 against Queen’s in Kingston.

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