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Neil MacDonald: The X-Factor

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In the competitive world of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) basketball, individual sacrifices are a necessity if one intends to earn a roster spot for one of Canada’s most prestigious programs. For Neil MacDonald of the Saint Francis Xavier X-Men, it meant hours of highway miles searching for more meaningful competition and a chance to play beyond high school.

Growing up in the small community of Sydney Mines, population of 6,982 afforded Neil all the imaginable benefits. However, defenders capable of presenting a challenge for the 6-10 center were in short supply. “During high school, I traveled to Halifax pretty much every weekend in the summer so I could play with better competition. Coach K (St. F.X. coach, Steve Konchalski) was at the helm of the Canada Games team then, and he had the tough job of getting me to catch up to the other kids” said MacDonald.

But MacDonald’s dedication and Konchalski’s persistence paid dividends as Neil spurned such schools as Penn State and New Mexico in selecting the rural Antigonish, Nova Scotia university to hone his skills. He’s since blossomed into one of the nation’s premier big men, playing starring roles for the X-Men who have captured the tough Atlantic University Sport championship banner for the past two seasons.

For the second straight season, MacDonald and the X-Men lost a heartbreaker to the eventual champion Carleton Ravens at the Final 10, but Neil showed the country how his game has evolved in knocking down 29 points as his team fought back from a 16 point half-time deficit only to fall short at the buzzer in a 67-65 Carleton victory. Many observers commented that he was in a zone and could score seemingly at will, but MacDonald downplays it.

“I don’t know if I’d call it the zone. It was more about me having a very frustrating game the night before and I felt like I had something to prove, along with the fact that Carleton was the team that knocked us off the year before. I guess I could say that I knew I needed to have a big game in order for us to win, and the guys got me the ball in great position to score. 29 points really isn’t satisfying at all because I’d take 0 points and a win over that any day.”

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It comes as no surprise that someone with such a mindset credits his coach for X’s success. “Coach K is the primary reason that I chose X in the first place. Being able to play under a coach with so much experience at all levels is very much a privilege. It motivates us as players and brings us together as a team. Coach K also takes pride in seeing his players earn their degree, which is not the case for everyone”.

Playing for Team Canada in the Tournament of the Americas was also an inspiration for Neil, especially since it was held in Halifax. “The Tournament of the Americas was a huge stepping stone towards the development of my game. The competition really doesn’t get any better than that, and now I can look at the game from the perspective of other coaches and my teammates that I played with all summer. To play for Canada at any level was at the very top of my personal goals.”

So for the time being, Neil MacDonald is finishing his 3rd year at X and this summer will be somewhat less taxing than his last one. Neil fully expects to help propel X to the Finals again next season, and he is already looking ahead. “For sure we plan to be back at the Final 10. If we take care of business this summer and come back ready to go next year, and then take it step by step until March, we’ll be right there again, hopefully the way we want it to end.”

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Highly touted Alabama Crimson Tide Return To Canada

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Alabama Crimson Tide Avery Johnson Return To Canada

The Alabama Crimson Tide led by former NBA Head Coach Avery Johnson, a 16-year veteran and NBA champion point-guard during his playing days will bring his highly touted Alabama Crimson Tide to Canada for series of games against Canada’s top university basketball programs.

The Crimson Tide will visit both Montreal and Ottawa for a three-game exhibition schedule against McGill Redmen (Mon Aug 7), Carleton Ravens (Wed Aug 9) and the Ottawa Gee-Gees (Thu Aug 10).

The Tide competed hard last year and took a step in the right direction with a 19-15 record, 10-8 SEC record and have NCAA March Madness tournament aspirations thanks to solid recruiting class which ranks amongst the nations best.

Led by a talented crop of returning guards, Dazon Ingram (10.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG), Riley Norris (9 PPG, 3 RPG), the coaches son Avery Johnson Jr. and forwards Braxton Key the Tide will be a handful for the it’s Canadian opposition.

Key a 6’8″, 220 lbs flirted with the  2017 NBA draft after a stellar freshman season, the Charlotte, NC native led ‘Bama in scoring with 12 point per game and was second in rebounding at 5.7 per game. The Tide will also welcome incoming red-shirt sophomore 6’10”, 240lbs Daniel Giddens to a line-up that returns four starters.

Alabama anchored by current NBA player Alonzo Gee (Denver Nuggets) last visited Canada back in 2007 and finished with a record of 4-1 against the same exact teams, dropping a tight 83-72 decision against the Carleton Ravens who have won seven straight Canadian titles including 13-of the-last-15 championships.

Carleton’s signature win over Alabama was only their second ever against a NCAA division one team after 16-game losing streak from 1999 to 2006. The Ravens current record against NCAA teams in Canada stands at an impressive 26-23 (.531%) record.

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Calgary Dinos Thomas Cooper Senior Highlights

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Calgary Dinos Thomas Cooper Senior Highlights

Calgary Dinos senior guard Thomas Cooper had himself and impressive CIS/Usports career to say the least. The Chattanooga, Tenn. native, a 6-5, 200 lbs guard earned himself two first team All-Canadian awards while leading Dinos back to the championship game for the first time since 1966.

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No. 1 Carleton Ravens 81-40 lock-up rivals No. 2 Ottawa Gee-Gees

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Eddie Ekiyor Carleton Ravens Vs.Ottawa Gee Gees USports Basketball
Photo - Valerie Wutti

Ottawa, ON – The twelve-time defending CIS/USports National Basketball Champions and No.1 Carleton Ravens went into Monpetit Hall and completely dominated the No. 2 ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees, locking up their Bytown rivals with a blistering 81-40 win.

The Ravens, the top defensive unit in the country, allowing an incredible low of only 60 points to opponents, dominated every aspect of the much anticipated game holding Ottawa to four points in the first-quarter and thirteen in the second for a grand total of seventeen first-half points and 35-17 half-time lead.

The first-quarter ended with Ravens leading 11-4 as both teams slugged it out in front of a jam packed standing room only Monpetit Hall which hasn’t seen the Gee-Gees get dismantled like this on their home floor in 32-game OUA conference games – snapping home winning streak which dated back to 2012.

Fifth-year senior Guard Connor Wood caught fire in the second-quarter after a cold start scoring all but 14 of the teams 24 points in the quarter and finished with 16 in the half and game-high 19 points. Starting point guard Kaza Kajami-Keane added 10 points, six rebounds in just 19 minutes.

The Gee-Gees were limited to 6-of-32 (18.8%) shooting, 3-of-17 from the outside in the opening 20 minutes and managed to only connect on 12-56 (21.4%) of their field goal attempts for the entire game and only 6-of-26 from the outside.

Carleton shot 50% in the second-half and finished 31-68 from the floor and 13-of-28 from downtown while turning the ball over 9 times compared to the Gee-Gees 18.

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The 40 points allowed by the Ravens is their lowest against the Gee-Gees since a 74-34 smack-down in January 18th, 2012 at the Sixth Annual Capital Hoops Classic.

Carleton Ravens 6’10” freshman Eddie Ekiyor (Ottawa, ON) and senior forward Ryan Ejim (Toronto, ON) finished one point shy of double-doubles with 9 points and 8 rebounds respectively, and shutdown the Gee-Gees dynamic duo of Caleb Agada (12 points, 4 rebounds) and former Ravens Jean Emmanuel Pierre (7 points, 6 rebounds). Gee-Gees Guard Brandon Robinson had a team-high 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 3-of-4 triples.

Carleton’s record  stays unblemished at a perfect 10-0, 16-0 against Canadian competition and 22-2 overall with the only losses coming from two NCAA opponents on the road in Rhode Island – Providence Friars 87-69 and in Philadelphia against LaSalle Explorers 79-73.

Both teams will meet again in just over two weeks (Feb 3rd) at the 2017 Capital Hoops Classic at the ScotiaBank Centre.

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