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.
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.
Dave Smart steps down as Carleton men’s head coach after 14 national titles
It’s the end of an era at Carleton.
The school has announced that Dave Smart, who built a dynasty that dominated Canadian university sport for nearly 20 years, has stepped down.
Smart has accepted a new role as the university’s director of basketball operations, Carleton said in a news release.
He will be responsible for “developing the men’s and women’s basketball programs and continuing to build a culture of sport excellence,” the release said.
“Smart will provide operational support, mentorship and technical leadership to the coaching staff of both programs, and he will work with the Department of University Advancement in fundraising and community development.
“He’ll also provide mentorship to other U Sports coaches in Carleton Athletics.”
Taffe Charles, who coached Carleton’s women’s program for 12 years and won a national title in 2017-18 will succeed Smart as men’s team head coach.
“It’s been a great run,’’ said Smart in a statement.
“Coaching is my second love, my first being my wife and children. I am very thankful to the university and I am looking forward to my new role.
“This gives me an opportunity to stay involved in basketball while having more time to spend with my family.”
Smart’s 19-year tenure at Carleton was one of remarkable dominance, with 14 national championships.
He also won a record number of coaching awards and has been active as a coach with Canada Basketball.
“Dave’s success on the court has given Carleton great national visibility and we are sincerely grateful,” said Benoit-Antoine Bacon, president of Carleton University.
“I wish Dave all the best in his new role where he will share his ‘playbook’ with all our Ravens programs.”
Charles played on Carleton’s men’s team from 1990 to 1995 and began his coaching career as an assistant in 1995; he then served as an assistant with the men’s program from 1998 to 2007.
Since returning to the women’s program in 2007, Carleton won four U Sports Final 8 berths, four OUA East titles, and two OUA championships.
Carleton’s women’s national championship in 2018 was the first in school history.
“I am truly honoured to be entrusted as the next head coach of the Carleton University men’s basketball program,’’ said Charles in a statement.
“I look forward to the challenge of continuing the high standard of excellence that has been set by Coach Smart, his coaching staff and the players.’’
Carleton said it has launched a national search for a head coach of its women’s program.
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.