RDC Kings basketball head coach Clayton Pottinger knows what it’s like to have a bullseye on his back.
That was the case last season as the Kings went into the Alberta Colleges Men’s Basketball League regular season as the defending ACAC silver medallists and the top-ranked team in the province.
This year it will be the case once again for the defending league champions.
“We do know what it’s like and this year may be our best team ever,” said Pottinger, who is in his third season with the program. “But this year will be even tougher to win as looking at the rosters there are a lot of strong teams.
But it’s a welcome challenge. The stronger the league the more prepared teams will be once they get to the nationals.
“There’s two teams going from our league and we certainly hope we’re up to be one of those two.”
The Kings will also host the ACAC championships Feb. 28-March 2.
“We’re really looking forward to that,” said Pottinger.
“We get an automatic berth into the championships, but we’re not even talking about that. We want to be one of the top teams, earn our way into it and be seeded as high as we can.”
The Kings have a solid nucleus returning and it will get even better after Christmas when Rob Pierce returns.
Pierce is one of the premier scorers and rebounders in college basketball in the country, but his program doesn’t start until the second semester.
As well the Kings may not be able to add six-foot-10 Daniel Berndt from Germany until after Christmas.
Berndt was to be on hand to start the season but after a strike held up his visa application he may not be arrive until later in the year.
“He had everything ready to go, then the strike, so we’re not looking for him to be available,” said Pottinger. “Although there’s still a chance he’ll be here if his visa comes through this week.”
As it is guards Lloyd Strickland, Matt Johnson, Ashaunti Hogan and Jacob Cusumano are all back along with swing man Mari Peoples-Wong and forward Brian Prenoslo.
Strickland is in his fifth season and comes in as the MVP of the ACAC playoffs.
Strickland averaged 10.7 points, 3.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game during the regular season and upped his total to 15.7 points per game in the playoffs.
Johnson backed up Strickland at point guard last season, while Hogan averaged 13.8 points per game during the season and 10.7 in the playoffs.
Peoples-Wong, who joined the team at Christmas last year, averaged 15.1 points during the season and 13.7 in the playoffs.
The Kings added experience with the addition of guard Jason Burke, who played during the 2008-09 season for Concordia College University in Edmonton where he averaged 14.4 points per game.
“He’s a proven talent and gives us depth,” said Pottinger, who has three recruits out of high school in six-foot-seven Jordan Britton of Drumheller and Dallas Hancox of Sylvan Lake and Hunting Hills High School and guard JP Leblanc of Sturgeon.
“They’ve been impressive,” Pottinger said. “They all came in in excellent condition and ready to play. They’ve all impressed.”
Six-foot-eight Craig Johnson of Maryland and six-foot-five Clay Crellin of Vancouver round out the roster.
Johnson attended Leslie University in the States, a Division III school, while Crellin is listed as a guard, but is a versatile athlete, who Pottinger feels can be one of the best players in the nation.
“I like our roster, which should get even better at Christmas,” said Pottinger, whose team has a tough opening schedule as they play at The Kings University College Oct. 19 then visit Keyano College in Fort McMurray Oct. 25 and NAIT Oct. 26.
They don’t open at home until Nov. 1 against Olds.
“It’s a tough start, especially with all the games on the road and all three teams expected to be strong,” he said.
The Kings will play in the Gold tournament in Edmonton, Oct., 3-5, facing the University of Alberta and UNBC. They host their own tournament, Oct. 12-14.