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.”
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.”
Kadre Gray wins second consecutive U Sports MVP
Laurentian guard Kadre Gray took his game to another level this season.
That’s saying something.
A year ago, Gray was the top Canadian university male athlete in any sport, the first Laurentian student to win the honour.
He led the country in assists, narrowly missed a scoring title, and — perhaps by default — also won the Mike Moser Memorial Trophy as men’s basketball player of the year.
“Kadre’s work ethic continues to shine bright,” said Laurentian head coach Shawn Swords in a statement.
“He is always looking for ways to improve and refine all aspects of the game.”
If there was any doubt, Gray stifled it in his junior season.
He averaged 31 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game en route to his second consecutive Moser trophy.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment to do it once,” said Swords.
“And now, to be named MVP twice, is truly a testament to his willingness to learn and improve.
“The Kadre effect has spread throughout our community as well. It is great to see him support our local youth and realize the positive impact he has on everyone.”
Gray received the 2019 Moser trophy Thursday at a gala in Halifax, N.S., ahead of the U Sports Men’s Final 8 tournament.
University of Calgary guard Mambi Diawara, Concordia guard Ricardo Monge and St. Mary’s University guard Kemar Alleyne were also finalists for the award.
Gray was simply a cut above. He posted gaudy stats with notable efficiency, shooting 48.8 per cent from the floor.
He was also a First Team All-Canadian and played with Canada’s national team in FIBA World Cup 2019 Americas Qualifiers against Venezuela and Brazil.
Gray was the only U Sports player to participate in the qualifiers.
Other award winners:
Rookie of the Year (Dr. Peter Mullins Trophy): Alix Lochard, UQAM.
Ken Shields Award for Student-Athlete Community Service: Tanner Graham, Queen’s.
Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Anderson, Carleton.
Stuart W. Aberdeen Memorial Trophy (Coach of the Year): Dan Vanhooren, Calgary.
Carleton Ravens reclaim OUA Basketball Supremacy
The road to Ontario University Basketball supremacy has been firmly cemented through the Carleton University Ravens.
The Canadian basketball powerhouse has continuously dominated the toughest conference in the country year-in, year out, earning eleven (11) conference titles in Dave Smart’s 19 seasons as head coach.
Recently, the Ryerson Rams have threaten to end the Ravens dominance, earning the first non Carleton Ravens’ back-to-back (2016, 2017) conference titles since Joe Raso and the McMaster Marauders pulled it off in 1996 and 1997. Furthermore, despite the Ravens dominance of the Rams, they have managed to beat Carleton and win meaningfully games in March.
Ryerson, playing in their fourth straight Ontario University Association (OUA) conference championship game — a feat that not even the Ravens have accomplished, were looking for their third conference title in four years, having cut down the mesh at the Ravens’ Nest to win their second straight conference banner two years ago.
Add to the fact that Ryerson ended the Ravens hopes of a perfect season, pulling off a 78-74 road win less than five weeks ago and we once again had the ingredients for another great game.
“Coming into game we put a lot of focus in practice on limiting their key players and making it tough for them.” discussed Ravens’ point guard Yasiin Joseph after the Ravens executed their game-plan to perfection, beating the Ryerson Rams 81-61 to reclaiming Wilson Cup supremacy with their second straight conference title.
Carleton ripped off 12-0 run and held the Rams scoreless for over four minutes to grab 25-18 lead after one quarter. Ravens starting back-court of Yasiin Joseph (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and Munis Tutu (16 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds) both played outstanding, controlling the offense and were great on the boards.
“Ryerson is a tough team and you have to be prepared. We made some adjustments from the previous game that helped us come on top.” Also commented Tutu, a Windsor, Ontario native who is looking for his first national title with the Ravens after falling short to the Rams in the national semi-final game.
Now three games away from potentially tasting national glory, Tutu understands the importance of staying focused and trusting the plan. “It’s going to be difficult, we are going to put in a tough week of practice, and prepare for our next opponent and try to bring the championship back to Ottawa.”
Eddie Ekiyor continued his All-Canadian campaign with 16 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes. TJ Lall returned from his one game suspension and almost had a perfect game with 10 points, 7 rebounds on 5-of-6 shooting.
Both teams shot poorly from the three-point line going a combined 8-of-49 (16%). Carleton limited the Rams offense to just seven assists and had fairly comfortable +17 (43-26) advantage on the glass.
6’11” Tanor Ngom continued to showcase his upside leading Ryerson in scoring with 15 points and four rebounds including a few exciting dunks for the standing room only, capacity crowd. JV Mukama was largely held in check and finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds including 0-7 from three-point shooting. Myles Charvis started off hot, but cooled down considerably, scoring 8 of his 10 points in the first quarter in 34 minutes.
Carleton won their first OUA conference basketball title of the Dave Smart era in his fourth year and they went on to three-peat on two occasions, from 2003-2005 and again from 2008-2010. They also took home top honors in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2018 and now once again 2019.
The only years the Ravens have failed to win the national title as conference champions were in 2008 when they lost to the Acadia Axemen, 2010 against Saskatchewan and recently against Ryerson in 2018.
The Ravens are now the odds on favorites to earn the top seed at next weeks Final 8 National Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia — a place where they have won 8 of their record 13 national titles.