CALGARY — Fifteen minutes into a discussion of his hardcourt hopes for the coming winter, Mike Stevens makes a startling pronouncement.
“Personally, I’ve been around (the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) as a player, and as a coach, since 1997,” says the sixth-year bench boss of the SAIT Trojans men’s basketball squad, which includes Isfeld Ice alumnus Josh Moule of Cumberland. “And this is as deep a team as I’ve seen.”
Wait, Mike. You mean at SAIT, right?
“No. All around the league,” he says. “I’m not necessarily talking about talent level, or all-stars. What I’m saying is, how many teams could throw out their 15th guy, not even worry about it, and expect them go out and have a huge impact on the game?
“That’s why I’m telling the guys this year: ‘Bring what you have when we need it. Because if you can’t, we move on to the next guy.’”
The Trojans are coming off an uncharacteristic 5-13 season, but they hope the disappointment of 2011-12 is soon a speck in the rear-view mirror. When the Men of Troy begin their 2012-13 ACAC campaign tonight at SAIT’s Campus Centre, with an 8 p.m. date against the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves, they don’t expect their chances of winning will end with their starting five — or even their first full set of reserves.
“We’ve got some really young, talented players who’ve joined the team,” says veteran guard and SAIT co-captain Paul Ohlinger (3rd year, Calgary, business administration). “There’s not much drop-off in talent from our starting lineup to our last player off the bench. It’s going to be exciting to see what we can do . . . hopefully we’ll be able to just run some teams off the court.”
For starters, the Men of Troy have three young, aggressive college freshmen under the basket to augment returning six-foot-six post Mohamed Mbailelem (2nd year, Calgary, legal assistant), who himself cuts a pretty fearsome figure with an added 25 pounds of muscle.
That incoming trio includes six-foot-five Christopher Hendry (1st year, Chestermere, Alta., academic upgrading), six-foot-five Scott Watmough (1st year, Cranbrook, B.C., academic upgrading), and six-foot-five local recruiting prize Alex Auer (1st year, Calgary, business administration) from the St. Francis High School Browns.
In the backcourt, Stevens has so many decisions that he’s not 100-per-cent set on a starting lineup from one night to another. Through SAIT’s pre-season — which ended with a 2-7 record, including three dates against Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) opposition — he’s been opting for co-captain and sophomore Justin Makasiar (2nd year, Calgary, business administration) at point guard, rookie Cordell Minnifee (1st year, Calgary, academic upgrading) at shooting guard, and former Camosun College Charger Josh Moule (2nd year, Cumberland, academic upgrading) at the wing.
With the departure of the Mount Royal University Cougars this season to the Canada West conference of CIS, Stevens has taken a new approach to recruiting. He recognizes that the Trojans now have the opportunity, more than ever, to be a stepping stone — a junior college, if you will — for eventual CIS regulars at MRU and the University of Calgary, and is running with it.
“Hopefully we can attract some of that, help them refine their skills, and possibly then see them move up to the CIS and play.”
– SAIT Trojans