Any championship calibre basketball team needs a good point guard.
The RDC Kings have one of the best in four-year veteran Lloyd Strickland.
“The last two years Lloyd has matured as a player, a person and a student and is great for the program and for me as a coach,” said Kings second-year head coach Clayton Pottinger prior to leaving Tuesday morning for the national finals in Montreal.
“A point guard is like a coach’s right hand. He’s a coach on the floor and you need a good relationship with your point guard. Lloyd and I have worked on that and we trust each other, which is a huge benefit to the team.”
There was a time last summer when Strickland wasn’t sure he’d be back.
“It was a tough decision but after talking with the guys and with (Rob) Pierce and Joel (Carroll) coming back and the coach on me about returning I decided to come back and I certainly don’t regret the decision,” said Strickland, who was selected the MVP and first team all-star at the ACAC finals, which the Kings won 88-85 over Keyano College.
“It’s nice to be recognized, especially at the provincials, but my whole focus was getting the gold. The team is what counts and I don’t worry about the extra perks.”
It was the first time the Kings won the ACAC title since 1998. It showed just how hard the team worked this season, said Strickland.
“It was an awesome feeling, but it symbolized all of our hard work. Now we’re out to get one more (title).”
The Kings head to the nationals for the second straight year. Last season they were a wild card after finishing second to the Mount Royal University Cougars. But they were one of the biggest surprises at the CCAA finals, finishing fourth.
“I’m just as excited this year,” said Strickland. “Last year we had a different frame of mind as we were just happy to be there. This year we’re out to win, so we’re taking it as a step at a time. Getting our Xs and Os together.”
The Kings go into the nationals ranked third, but will have a tough test right off the bat against Vancouver Island University Mariners of Nanaimo, who have one of the premier scorers in the nation in guard Brandon Jones.
“Any team we face will be tough,” said Strickland. “We definitely respect all our opposition. But it’s up to us to play our style, play strong defence and go from there.”
Pottinger says the Mariners have a similar style to the Kings.
“They have a well-rounded team similar to us,” he said. “I think we have an advantage in that we have more depth, but they’re bigger. We both have been ranked in the top eight all season, so two teams of that calibre meeting in the first round of the nationals doesn’t happen often.”
The Kings have four veterans who played last season with Jacob Cusumano joining Strickland, Pierce and Carroll, who is still battling a knee injury.
“It helps to have four guys with that experience,” said Pottinger. “We have several first-year guys who will have the nervous jitters, but they can rely on the veterans for that experience.”
One of the benefits Strickland has this year is a solid backup in rookie Matt Johnson.
“That’s something I didn’t have last year,” said Strickland. “He’s helped me a lot giving me a breather, and even at practice he pushes me and I push him. It makes both if us better.
“We have a great relationship. I know he values me and what he can learn and values being a part of a championship team. He’s part of a good rookie crop and we value all of them.”
“Matt has been fantastic as a rookie and really helped give Lloyd a chance to be fresh,” said Pottinger.
Two of the new faces on the team — Mari Peoples-Wong and Demaine Nelson — joined the team at Christmas.
“We started to build the culture of this team before Christmas, so they had to catch up a little, and we had to push them at times, but they responded well and were terrific down the stretch when we needed them,” said Strickland. “We demand a good brotherhood on and off the court and they’ve fit in . . . we enjoy having them around.”
The Kings face the Mariners at 11 a.m. (MDT) Thursday. Keyano goes into the tournament ranked seventh and meet Sheridan College of Oakville, Ont., while Holland College of Charlottetown, PEI, takes on Champlain College of St. Lambert, Que., and top-seeded Langara College of Vancouver meets the host John Abbott College.
l The women’s nationals are set to open Thursday in Turo, N.S., with the Olds College Broncos ranked fifth. They face Algonquin College of Nepean, Ont. Montmorency College of Laval is ranked No. 1 and meet Mount St. Vincent University of Halifax. As well VIU takes on Dawson College of Montreal and Fanshawe College of London, Ont., clashes with St. Thomas University of Fredericton, N.B.
l The RDC soccer teams will compete in the ACAC futsal finals at Olds College, beginning Friday.
The Kings meet Keyano College at 5 p.m. Friday and Lakeland at 10:15 a.m. and Medicine Hat at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. The bronze medal game goes Sunday at 9 a.m. with the final at noon.
The Queens clash with Medicine Hat at 8:45 p.m. Friday and finish round-robin play Saturday against Lakeland at 11:30 a.m. and Keyano at 6:45 p.m.
The bronze medal game goes Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and the final is at 1:30 p.m.
l Volleyball Kings setter Sam Brisbane, who was a first-team all-star at the nationals where the Kings finished second, was named the Boston Pizza RDC and the ACAC male athlete of the week.
Hockey Queens defenceman Megan Jones, who was solid during the ACAC final against NAIT, took the top female award.
Queens hockey, which finished second to NAIT, losing the best-of-five final 3-1, was the Breathing Room Yoga Studio and Cafe team of the week.