A midcourt inbounds pass, early in a game isn’t usually something anyone pays much attention to. The ball goes in to play, the offense sets up and the game continues. That’s what everyone in the gym was thinking when the Saskatchewan Huskies visited the University of Alberta back in October for a preseason tournament. The defense waited, stagnant for a second, their mistake was already made. While the players watched the inbound pass, Andrew Spagrud cut to the basket, caught the pass in midair and rammed it through the hoop on a helpless Golden Bear defender. The sound of the breakaway rim snapping echoed through the gym and was followed by a collective cheer from the shocked crowd. Spagrud then dropped from the rim and ran back down the court as if he had just made a free throw.
This is Andrew Spagrud’s M.O., you won’t see him pounding on his chest, screaming at the top of his lungs after dunks, or celebrating after a spectacular play. The scary part of his game is that he’s as good as he is quiet. Averaging 23.5 points and 11 rebounds per game in only his second season with the Huskies, last year’s CIS rookie of the year is getting the nation’s attention without having to say a word.
“Defenses are a lot tougher this year,” the 6-7 forward says, noting that he’s having to work harder for his points, now that coaches have seen what he can do offensively. “I’ve got to pick my spots now and sometimes I have to be a passer.” While he’s sharing the rock with his teammates, Spagrud is still proving himself to be the most potent offensive player in the country, as he’s currently the CIS’ second leading scorer. “Not having Pasha Bains around this year makes it a lot easier,” he jokes.
“I’d like to think I pattern my game after Kevin Garnett”
More than any other player in the country, Spagrud lets his game do the talking when he’s on the court. Getting him to talk about it off the court can prove to be as much a challenge as defending him on the court. After de-clawing the Golden Bears in a 67–62 January win, he was hesitant to talk about any of his highlights. “You know you got the same guy tonight that you did back in October when you dunked on him, right?” He pauses for a minute, thinks about it and shrugs. “I don’t mind that myself,” he says with a small laugh. “He got in my face one time tonight, and for some reason that team (the Golden Bears) just hates me. If I fall down in front of their bench I hear it.” It’s moments like this that Spagrud’s grounded nature seems to fail him, like he can’t see that the opposition’s going to say and do whatever they can to slow his roll. They have to. “It doesn’t matter though,” he says, his confidence making up for his meekness. “It just makes me play harder.”
When he sets foot on the court, you won’t see Spagrud’s facial expression change too much. Even when games get tight, he looks like he’s shooting buckets on his driveway. He takes the ball on the block, holds it high as he sizes up his opponent; squares up and throws a jab, steps back and goes glass. Square. Step. Glass. Net. Next. Sounds like a center from San Antonio you might know? “I’d like to think I pattern my game after Kevin Garnett,” Spagrud says, and in terms of his all around ability, he might be right. But the fundamentally sound skills mixed with an almost automatic ability to calmly deliver down the stretch again and again makes you see visions of the 21 with two rings when he’s doing his thing.
As calm and humble as Spagrud comes across, don’t let yourself be fooled by his lighthearted demeanor. There’s a serious com-petitor behind what may seem like a passive exterior. After being selected as a reserve for the Under-21 Canadian team that competed in the Tournament of the America’s this past summer, Spagrud declined the spot on the Winnipeg head coach Dave Crooks’ roster. “I could have stayed and worked with them but I chose not to. I don’t know if it was a good idea or not,” he says. “But scoring 36 against Winnipeg [in a 101–90 win on November 19th] was good vengeance.”
As Spagrud will tell you, vengeance, like silence, is sweet.