Mount Allison men’s basketball coach Duane Starratt, above centre, feels this will be a breakout year for his team. Above, Starratt works with players Kaleefah Henry, left, and Jordan Bedard. DOHERTY PHOTO
The Mount Allison Mounties basketball team has usually played about .500 ball but coach Duane Starratt believes this will be the season when they break the barrier and move to near the top of the class.
Starratt returned two years ago to take over a squad that had struggled through the resignation of the coach and entering this season has just one player from prior to his arrival. He says the team was not in a panic situation when they were left coachless and thinks it may have challenged each player to do even better. Women's coach Al Hart had kept the boys together for one game until Starratt agreed to return after having held the reins a dozen years earlier.
During his first half year on the job the team went 9-12 and last year surged to the 12-9 mark to earn a playoff spot before losing to Mount Saint Vincent in the quarter finals. The Holland College Hurricanes ultimately won the league championship and went on to medal at the nationals.
So what can fans expect to see now that Starratt is coaching a team that is almost entirely new and recruited by himself? Well, first of all, look for an up-tempo style with lots of full and half court presses. This will come due to the fact he has 10 players who can play with anybody in the conference. Even though there will ultimately be a starting five, the coach will not be reluctant to substitute liberally, keeping fresh legs on the floor at all times.
There really isn't much more enjoyment than watching a hard driving team that plays gung-ho the entire four quarters and never lets up. This can only happen when a coach has confidence in his bench and substitutes freely.
Of the 14 players making the cut only six are returning from previous campaigns and just one in his final season. Eight newcomers are expected to bring winning attitudes and even though the squad will not have any "huge" players, the rebounding will be done by committee. Thirteen of the 14 are either first or second year players, so it will be a case of molding a team in the coach's image.
Assisting Starratt will be two former players in the ACAA - Andrew Stanley and Craig Miller who toiled with Mount Saint Vincent.
Jordan Bedard is the one true veteran in the lineup and he is being looked to to provide leadership both on the floor and in the dressing room because of his experience and seniority and an ability to vocally challenge the others.
The coach says he can go 12 players deep in any game but has kept 14 for two reasons - first there is always the threat of injury and then the practice time can only help them improve.
Bedard, from Moncton, is a shooting guard while the second returning starter is Kaleefah Henry of Brampton who is also a shooting guard. Among the other returnees are Tyrell Laurent of Brampton, Rourke Davison of Newfoundland and Chris Haley of Bedford.
Two major losses though graduation were All-Canadian and high scorer Ben Chisholm and Brandon Mulally of Truro.
But Ben's younger brother, Alex, a 6'4" wingman, has transferred in from the UNB Reds and is being counted on to take up a good deal of the slack. Jesse Balser of Riverview and Adam Spurrell, a transfer from Bishops who is currently with the football Mounties, are expected to bring much to the table.
Isaac Gray, a 6'3" forward from Woodstock, is in camp after working for a year following high school,while Horton's Bradley Fuller at 6'5" is the biggest of the group. Sam Crouse of Newfoundland, Art Palmer oif Brampton and Charles Kacou will return after sitting out last season.
Starratt rather likes what he has seen during a pair of scrimmages with a group of Moncton senior players and will head into Quebec for a three game exhibition series next week. The league opener will take place on Nov. 3 against Mount Saint Vincent.
The team, reborn in the ’90s following cancellation of the program by the university administration, may be on the verge of breaking through the glass barrier of playing second fiddle to teams like St. Thomas and MSVU, and a championship would provide a shot in the arm for varsity athletics at Mount Allison.