Over the last half dozen years the RDC Kings have developed into one of the premier college basketball programs in the country.
A pair of fifth-year guards — Lloyd Strickland and Jacob Cusumano — have played a major role in that development.
Strickland joined the Kings in 2009 after helping lead the Raymond Comets to the provincial 4A high school championship. A year later Cusumano came in from Windsor, Ont., after spending a season in the States.
“They are the poster boys of fifth-year players,” said Kings head coach Clayton Pottinger, who replaced Craig Behan in 2011 and has taken the Kings to the national finals the last two seasons.
Two years ago the Kings finished second in the ACAC behind Mount Royal, then won the championship last year. They go for the ACAC title again this season when the finals open at RDC Friday.
“It’s super exciting to be able to play for the championships on our home court, in front of friends and family for a last time,” said Strickland. “There’s nothing better than that.”
“It’s special to get to play in front of our home crowd one last time,” he said.
Neither of the two dreamed of still being at the college in their fifth season.
“It wasn’t the plan, but it’s how it worked out and I don’t regret it for one momentum,” said Strickland. “This is a great school, a great program and I’m glad to be part of the foundation.”
“I went to the States for a year and didn’t like it, so when I got the opportunity to come here I went for it,” said Cusumano. “I didn’t know anything about it, but it was the best decision of my life.
“It’s been a riot and to see where we started and to where we are now . . . the growth of the program and the players has bene a real treat. Three years ago we were a middle of the pack team that excelled at the right time. That helped build the program to where it is now. The transition was good to bring in players who work hard and put together a positive culture.”
Strickland knows the team’s success comes down to hard work and preparation.
“The guys are dedicated and buy into the program and want to be part of the team. I know myself it’s hard to walk away.”
Both will be done this year and will move on. Strickland may look at going overseas to play and “maybe look at being an assistant coach.”
Cusumano may also look at going to Europe, but hasn’t decided.
“I’ll have my degree in sociology and may just work, we’ll see what happens.”
The Kings face the Medicine Hat Rattlers in their opening game Friday at 6 p.m. The Rattlers are one of three teams to beat them during the regular season.
“That gives us added motivation,” said Strickland. “It’s a scary matchup, but then I believe this is the toughest playoff we’ve been in. There are no easy teams. Any team from one to eight can win this.”
The Kings will be without outstanding forward Clay Crellin for their opening game after he received a technical foul against Lethbridge in the Kings final league game.
“It’s a big loss, but it means someone else has to pick up the slack,” said Cusumano, who hit 51.7 per cent of his three-point shots this season, one of the best in the country.
“I worked hard during the summer and my teammates helped me a lot. They were so talented it gave me more room,” he said.
Lethbridge and Briercrest Bible College open the tournament Friday at 1 p.m. with Grant MacEwan and Concordia clashing at 3 p.m. NAIT and Keyano meet at 8 p.m. The semifinals go Saturday at 6 and 8 p.m. with the final at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
The top two teams advance to the nationals, March 12-16 at Quest University in Squamish, B.C..
• The volleyball Kings go into the national championships, March 6-8 in Moose Jaw, as the top ranked team and face St-Jerome Cheminots of Quebec in their first game at 1 p.m. (CST) March 6.
The host Briercrest Clippers are ranked sixth and face Douglas College Royals of New Westminster, B.C. Other games has Humber College of Toronto clashing with the CBC Bearcats of Abbotsford and the Mohawk Mountaineers of Hamilton meeting St. Thomas Tommies of Fredericton, N.B.
The Queens go into the women’s nationals at Seneca College in Toronto ranked third and meet the Capilano Blues of North Vancouver in their first match at 1 p.m. (MST) March 6. The Grande Prairie Wolves are ranked fifth and face Humber College. The Garneau Elans of Quebec City are ranked No. 1 and face Seneca College while Vancouver Island University of Nanaimo meets the Mount St. Vincent University Mystics of Halifax.
• The hockey Kings finish their regular season this weekend against Portage College and a weekend sweep will give them third place.
The team meet Friday at Portage and Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
• Volleyball stars Sam Brisbane and Amber Adolf share the Boston Pizza RDC athlete of the week awards. Brisbane was the MVP of the men’s playoffs and Adolf the MVP of the women’s championships.
The volleyball teams shared the Breathing Room team of the week award.