A year removed from a loss in the 4A central zone championship, the Lindsay Thurber Raiders are ready for the return of basketball season.
At the end of last season, the senior boys’ basketball team came up just short of a league championship but with a new-look squad this season they’re hoping to make some noise.
Head coach Joel Carroll said he’s excited for a number of reasons including the opportunity to get to play in front of fans. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve been unable to play with a crowd but said it’s great for the development of school culture and for the boys to enjoy.
“I definitely probably have one of the younger groups I’ve had in a few years this year. I think after COVID, it kind of backlogged the players. Last year I had an all-Grade 12 team, whereas this year I have a variety of Grade 10s, 11s, and 12s,” he said.
As part of the rookie group for the Raiders in Grade 10 are forward Noah Foley and guard Sahil Zekria. In Grade 11 is guard Noah Nakonechny, forward Jordy Lumeka, and guard Ayden Cook.
Despite the solid group of young players, the Grade 12 group makes up the majority of the team including guard Cale Driedger, guard Sam Bender, forward Gabe Gillies, guard Kaiden Clarke, guard Dillon Mattson, guard Landen Hawthorne, forward Karson McDonald, forward Ethan Good, and forward Alex De Boni.
Before last season, Carroll didn’t have much time to develop his players, who for the two years prior to that, could not play basketball due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a very new team so I think it’ll take time for us to find our chemistry but we have more size than I’ve ever had as a coach at Thurber,” he said.
Only three players are returning from last year’s team including Gillies who stands six feet seven inches tall. Carroll said Gillies is a great asset to have and will change the dynamic of the game. The other two returning players are Bender and Driedger, who has a year of playing senior under their belt, Carroll said will be valuable to the team this year.
“With their leadership, I think we can have a really good shot at obviously being competitive in central Alberta but my goal is to be able to compete with the best at the provincial level,” Carroll said.
Other than the length and size of some of the players, the Raiders are optimistic about a strong group of three-point shooters, which they haven’t had for some time. Carroll said they will be a group built on defensive pride.
“That’s one thing you feel you can control as a team is your defensive effort and schemes,” he said.
“I think offensive identity comes over time so I’m excited this weekend to see them play for the first time. You practice with them but it’s not until you see them in-game that you can start seeing where are our strengths and how can we build an offence to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers our shooters.”
The Raiders begin their season this weekend in an exhibition tournament in Edmonton and begin conference play on Dec. 6 at home.