RDC Kings basketball head coach Clayton Pottinger couldn’t help but smile when asked about the 2017-18 edition of his team.
The Kings have only two players who have more than one-year experience, but a solid core of veterans and an impressive list of recruits.
“This is easily the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Pottinger, who is heading into his seventh season.
“I’m happy with the recruits on many levels. We have size, athleticism and skill across the board. You combine that with the fact most of the new kids are rookies it makes for possibly the best rookie class in the province.”
Only one of the new faces — point guard Solon Ellis — has previous post-secondary experience. Ellis, who is the lone recruit from the States, played at the University of Wisconsin-Stout last season.
Five of the recruits — six-foot-six wing Darien Valdes, six-foot-five wing Barzin Eskandarkhah, guard Javon Fray-Woodbine, guard Omon Edobar and six-foot-seven forward Braiden Ousey — played at a prep school in the States.
Valdes (Sir Winston Churchill) and Eskandarkhah (Forest Lawn) are from Calgary while Fray-Woodbine is from the Toronto Area, Edobar from Ajax, Ont., and Ousey from Australia.
Other rookies include six-foot-six forward Karnakshpal Toor of Edmonton’s Harry Ainlay and six-foot-two guard Dshawn Tyrell from the Toronto area.
“I looked back at the last couple of years and we decided to blow things up a bit and go back to what we did when we had success,” said Pottinger. “When we had success we shared the ball and played with a team mentality. And the last couple of years we didn’t have as much depth.
“We also went younger. Overall the guys are more pliable than some of the older recruits we brought in, who were set in their ways. It took a little more work to get the older guys on board with our culture. The youth is to our advantage in building that culture.
Pottinger arrived at RDC in 2011 and took the Kings to the nationals the next three seasons, finishing second in 2013-14. The Kings were fourth in 2011-12 and fifth in 2012-13. The last three years he attended the Alberta Colleges Men’s Basketball League playoffs, but finished out of the medals.
Pottinger has five players back from last season, including third-year guard Spencer Klassen, as well as former RDC standout forward Eric Bakker.
Bakker played three years at RDC, including Pottinger’s first season in 2011-12, when they finished a surprising second and qualified for the nationals.
“Eric was one of our main players and brings back that culture we’re trying to regain,” said Pottinger. “He will be a great addition to the team and brings experience and leadership.”
Last season Klassen started on the bench and was a starter by the playoffs. He averaged 9.8 points per game (ppg) during the season and increased that to 12.7 ppg in the playoffs, as the Kings finished fourth.
“As a third-year player Spencer brings in a lot of experience in terms of games under his belt,” Pottinger added. “He has developed into a good leader, setting an example on and off the court and has a good relationship with the the others.”
Other veterans are guards Cody White and Darryl Broderick and forwards Kevin Szymanek and Dillian Sutherland.
Overall Pottinger has 14 players he feels can play.
“Depth means so much when it comes to injuries, which we had last season, and in terms of playing at a high pace for extended periods of time.”
The Kings did lose their top three players in ACAC player of the year Ian Tevis, who is playing professionally in Germany, and forwards Matt Matear and Shayne Stumpf.
“Ian and I talked at the end of last season and I said it may be time to go,” said Pottinger. “His stock wouldn’t be higher after a great season and his player of the year award. I said at least test the waters.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org