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Sara Crooks: Follow the Leader

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Fifteen of the best, most talented basketball players from across the country are on the Canadian Women’s Senior National Team in Toronto in mid-August training for another tournament. There are almost as many people on the National Team as there are in forward Sarah Crooks’ hometown of Fife Lake, Sask. The population, according to Sarah, is twenty. That is not the most important number at this moment. The more important number is three; this 21 year old has only had three years of real, high caliber basketball under her belt. Yet in those three years, Sarah Crooks has gone from unknown recruit to budding star.

Coming to the University of Saskatchewan, Sarah was obviously not the player she is today. She was young basketball wise, and had not really been exposed to the game like many players her age. Despite that, Head Coach Lisa Thomaidis saw something special in Sarah from the beginning, “(Coming in) Sarah was raw, but athletically gifted.” As described by her coach, Sarah has good hands and excellent leaping ability and thrives in the transition game. This, plus the fact that she is 6-1, may have led Coach to believe that she was on to something with Sarah.

Under the Huskies’ coaching staff, Sarah has blossomed into one of the more dominant players in the country. Sarah attributes her vast improvements over her three years at U of S to the tireless effort that Coach Thomaidis has put into her development. She has worked hard to improve and to prove how hard she has worked in the last three years, you only have to look at her 2004-05 season accomplishments: 3-time Canada West player of the week (November 7, November 21 and February 7), CIS athlete of the week (February 9, 2005), Canada West First Team All-Star and CIS First Team All-Canadian. Along the way she managed to also finish second in the CIS in scoring (21.6 ppg) and lead the CIS in rebounding (12.4 rpg). Despite all that she has accomplished, Sarah still maintains that she had “played okay” this past season. This kind of comment shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows her. She has been called a “perfectionist” by her coach and feels that she still has improvements to make before she is the player she wants to be.

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It’s safe to say Sarah’s on-court skills have developed immensely, but there has been a growth in her maturity level as well. Her outlook on the game has shifted as her role on her team has changed. Her focus has now moved to the team’s improvement with hers taking a small step back. She is now aware that being one of the senior players on the team, she may be the one that is looked upon for leadership and direction. It is in this aspect of her game that she is most focused. When questioned about her National Team experience, she states that she was primarily looking to learn to be a better player for her team: not necessarily a better scorer, or rebounder or passer, but in her words, she wanted to learn “to be a better teammate.” This is a true sign of her maturity as a player and a person.

Sarah is well aware that she is not a complete player yet, but a work in progress. The time she spent traveling to the tournaments with the Women’s National Team was all about learning. She was the silent observer of her more experienced teammates, trying to pick up what she could. At this point, the most telling aspect of her future is that she only played for three years. Coach Thomaidis had said that Sarah is the best player she’s coached yet, and that for her, the sky’s the limit. Just wait until she’s played for another three years.

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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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