RDC Kings basketball head coach Clayton Pottinger had to laugh when it was mentioned he was in a must-win situation.
After both the RDC Kings and Queens won the Canadian volleyball championships on Saturday, the spotlight shifted to Pottinger and the Kings as they prepare to open the CCAA men’s basketball finals Thursday at Quest University in Squamish, B,.C.
“I guess the pressure is on me,” he said laughing. “But really we all feel inspired by what happened last weekend. It was great to see and something great for the whole athletic program.”
The Kings, who are making their third straight appearance at the nationals, will have their hands full as they go in seeded third and open against Crandall University Chargers of Moncton, N.B. at 9:30 p.m. (MDT) Thursday.
“They were the best team in their conference before they had a slip up against Holland in their playoffs,” said Pottinger. “If they won like they were expected to they may be ranked third and us fourth.”
The Chargers have a big forward line, including a pair of six-foot-eight first-year players from Ottawa. Osman Barrie averaged close to 20 points per game and Achull Lual over 13.
“It will be a tough first-round matchup, but a good one, it will get us into the tournament quickly,” added Pottinger. “But really there are no easy teams. There’s a lot of parity, we will have to play well every game.”
The Langara Falcons of Vancouver go into the tournament seeded No. 1 and face Alberta runner-up Concordia Thunder in their first game. The Sheridan Bruins of Oakville, Ont., clash with the host Quest Kermodes while the remaining game sees the Vanier Cheetahs of Saint-Laurent, Que., taking on the Holland Hurricanes of Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Pottinger feels there could be up to five teams — Langara, RDC, Sheridan, Vanier and Holland — with a “legitimate” chance to win the championship with the three others just behind.
The Kings have national experience with the likes of fifth-year players Lloyd Strickland, Rob Pierce, who was a first team all-star at the nationals last year and a second team all-star in 2012, and Jacob Cusumano back for a third year. Matt Johnson, Brian Prenoslo and Ashaunti Hogan are making a second appearance while Clay Crellin played in the nationals with NAIT.
“We have a lot of guys who know what it takes to compete at this level, which is a benefit,” said Pottinger.
• While the basketball Kings are looking for a national title, the hockey Kings are looking to take another step toward an ACAC crown.
But it won’t be easy as they face the top-ranked and heavily favoured NAIT Ooks.
The teams open their best-of-three league semifinal Friday at 7 p.m. at NAIT with the second game Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex. If a third game is necessary it’s Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at NAIT. The other semifinal sees the SAIT Trojans clashing with the University of Alberta, Augustana Vikings.
Head coach Trevor Keeper knows the Kings will have their hands full.
“Very much so,” he said. “They are very similar to us as their coach Serge (Lajoie) and I coached together. We have the same philosophy and style, but the difference is they’re older and more mature.”
Keeper hopes to build the Kings a bit quicker than it took Lajoie, who took four years to take the team from an also-ran to a league champion.
“I modeled our team after them, but I hope to build his team as quick as possible.”
It’s been a good start as the Kings returned to the ACAC after being away for 10 years. All they did was win 20 games and make the semifinals.
The Kings will be fairly healthy, although Clayton Petrie (knee) is questionable.
“Clayton had knee surgery last year and he tweaked it so we’re not sure if he’ll be ready, but Carter Page has been cleared to return from a concussion. Other than that we have guys with bruises and stitches after the MacEwan series (a 2-1 win).”
One decision Keeper does have to make is who he’ll start in goal. He used both Kraymer Barnstable and Mike Salmon during the season with Salmon playing the final game against MacEwan.
“I’m not sure who I’ll go with, I’ll make that decision going into NAIT,” he said.
The Kings posted a 1-3 record against the Ooks this season, losing twice at home and splitting in Edmonton.
“It’s a tough rink to play in as they have a longer zone inside the blueline, but we adjusted fairly well.”
• Volleyball dominated the weekend awards.
The Kings and Queens shared the Boston Pizza RDC athlete of the week and the Breathing Room team of the week awards.
As well, Amber Adolf, who was the MVP at the women’s nationals, and Braden O’Toole, who took the MVP award at the men’s nationals, were named two of the ACAC athletes of the week.