RDC’s basketball teams could not have ended last season with more different statuses.
The Kings finished as Canadian Colleges Athletic Association silver medallists and the Queens missed out on the post season altogether.
However, both enter the new Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference season on Friday against the SAIT Trojans with a lot of the same question marks.
Both teams underwent wholesale roster changes and neither team is a pre-season favourite to win the conference.
But it is their foundations that make them different.
Despite only returning one starter from last year’s team that came within a few baskets of a national championship, Kings head coach Clay Pottinger is ready for another deep run.
“We’re always recruiting with the end game in mind, we recruited guys that we think will be able to pick basically where we left off last year,” said Pottinger. “A lot of people think it would be prudent to baby-step your way toward it … but we’re a little bit more of a swing-for-the-fences type of team.”
Gone are last year’s stars like Clay Crellin, Lloyd Strickland, Mari Peoples and Ashaunti Hogan.
In their place are a trio of transfers.
Six-foot-seven forward Marcellus Clay has transferred in from Ohlone College in California and should fill Strickland’s spot at centre. Shooting guard Benny Bankazo came in from Medicine Hat College after averaging 20.4 points per game for the Rattlers in 2012-13, he seemed destined for a college in the U.S. before deciding on RDC. Meanwhile, forward Tyler Wise comes over from the MacEwan Griffins, choosing the Kings over several other options, including the University of Alberta Golden Bears. The third-year shooting guard averaged 14.4 points last year while leading the Griffins with a shooting percentage of 33.3 from three-point range.
One other recruit may prove to have the biggest upside of them all: William Beard-Camp. The six-foot-two guard out of Ogden, Utah has not played in the ACAC since tearing his ACL in the 10th game of the 2012-13 season with MHC. At the time he was averaging 18.1 points per game and was hitting on 53.1 per cent of his shots from beyond the arch.
“We took a flier on him, he seems like a good kid and is getting better every day in practice and I think by the time it’s all said and done, he’s going to be one of the most dangerous players in the league,” said Pottinger.
But the Kings have four key players back from their provincial championship team, led by fifth year guard Jacob Cusumano, the only returning starter.
However, he will be joined in the top five by Brian Prenoslo and Matt Johnson who were valuable bench players last season and have earned their spot in the starting lineup. JP Leblanc, meanwhile, has stepped up as a second year guard and has been one of the Kings’ best players in the pre-season and will be one of the first men off the bench.
The most important thing they bring as a group, however, is that championship experience and the ability to carry on the Kings way.
“Those guys are at the heart of what we do, they give us the continuity,” said Pottinger. “They’re taking the torch from the Lloyd Stricklands and the Rob Pierces and they’re trying to pick up from where they left off …
“Especially early in the year with a lot of new guys coming in, we as coaches can say what we want but if we don’t have players showing it and living it and exuding it the sell becomes much harder.”
The Queens are on the other end of the spectrum. They’re building from the ground up with new coach Ken King who is in his first college head coaching job.
They are also returning just two players from last year’s team that finished 9-11 and out of the playoffs.
But King is optimistic about the opportunity before him.
“I’m very excited, essentially the whole team is making their debut with all of the young people we brought in this year,” he said. “Process is the perfect word, it something we start at the end of August and it’s something that is ongoing for us as we change the culture and the attitude of the people that are on the team and getting everyone to buy in to what’s hopefully going to be a new direction.”
The Queens have not made the ACAC playoffs since 2010 when they were swept 2-0 in the quarter-final by the Concordia Thunder. They have not made it past the first round of provincials since 1992 when they won the their fifth ACAC championship.
Mount Royal University transfer Aneca Fretts has established herself early in the pre-season as player King will be able to lean on, as well as Amber Smith who led the St. Mary’s University Lightning in scoring last season. Meanwhile top recruit Kennedy Burgess out of Foothills high school in Okotoks has positioned herself early as a potential future captain.
“She can really score, she can really defend and she knows the game well,” said King of Burgess.
Third year guard Dedra Janvier and second year guard Gillian Griffin are the only two returning players, but Janvier appears ready to take the next step in her development.
“Now that she’s getting increased minutes and we’ve worked on her shot a lot, she’s really turned into quite the scorer,” said King.
The mass turnover is a function of players leaving for greener pastures and King’s need to build his own foundation. It is a natural transition whenever a new head coach comes into a program.
“We really wanted to make sure that the people we did keep around were the people that believed in the vision that we have for the program,” he said.
King’s biggest goal is to see a much improved team on the court by the end of the year, but he understands there will definitely be some tough stretches as this group adjusts to playing in the ACAC.
“Because of the amount of the first years we have on our team (we’re working on) getting used to the pace and physicality of this level, as we adjust to that, the learning curve is going to be pretty awesome for them,” he said.
The Queens tip off against the Trojans at RDC on at 6 p.m. with the Kings following at 8 p.m. They play in Calgary on Saturday against SAIT.
• Kings soccer player Alim Hirji was named ACAC men’s athlete of the week.
• The RDC Queens soccer team will play the Grande Prairie Wolves on Friday at 2 p.m. to open the ACAC championships hosted by NAIT in Edmonton. Provincials run through Sunday.
• The RDC Queens hockey team opens up their season tonight at the Red Deer Arena, hosting the MacEwan University Griffins at 7 p.m. They are in Edmonton on Friday for the return game against MacEwan at 8:15 p.m.
• The RDC Kings (3-4-0-1) hockey team hosts the Keyano College Huskies (5-1-0-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
• The RDC volleyball teams are in Caronport, Sask., to play the Briercrest Clippers this weekend.