For the second straight year the Dalhousie Tigers’ men’s basketball team enter the season as the defending AUS champions.
Head coach Rick Plato believes his team has a chance to win the championship again.
“We are the two time defending champions,” he said. “With some hard work and a little bit of luck… we are going to do everything we can to repeat.”
Last season the Tigers finished in first place with 13 wins and seven losses and they got a bye through the first round of the playoffs. They narrowly beat their Halifax rival Saint Mary’s in the semi finals, winning the game by a score of 75-74. The Tigers managed to grind out another win beating UPEI 87-85 to win the AUS Championship. They made it to the bronze medal game in the CIS Final Eight, but lost to Ryerson by a score of 85-78.
This season the Tigers are hosting the Final Eight at the Scotiabank Centre in March. Being the host team, the Tigers are guaranteed entry into the tournament.
“I know we are going to be there in March, it’s just a matter of how well we are going to play,” said Plato. “With the benefit of a home crowd…I’m really looking forward to it.”
Plato says reducing turnovers and being better at free throws are keys to being better this season. He believes the biggest key to success is for the team to have confidence in themselves.
“Not beat ourselves, that’s the key,” said Plato. “That’s what Carleton [the six-time defending national champions] does.”
Plato also noted that the Tigers played the Carleton Ravens closer than anybody in last year’s Final Eight. The Ravens beat the Tigers by ten points; their next closest game in the tournament was a 16-point win over Thompson Rivers.
The team will be heading into the season with a veteran line-up. Eleven players are returning this year including 2016 first team all-star guard Ritchie Kanza Mata, second team all-star forward Kashrell Lawrence and AUS rookie of the year guard Jordan Aquino-Serjue.
The Tigers also have one of the top recruits in Canada in Alex Carson, a 6’6” native of Lower Sackville. He led Nova Scotia to a U17 championship in 2015 and was named a first team all-star. He also has dominated Halifax high school basketball for Sackville High. One of his best games was a 60-point performance against Citadel High School.
“His work ethic is second to none,” said Plato. “I have never seen a kid that has been more energized, enthused and motivated to get better every single day…The one thing he is bringing to us right now is a three point perimeter threat that is consistent.”
The Tigers have had a strong start to the pre-season so far, winning four games and losing one. Plato believes a strong pre-season helps push the team in the right direction to start the regular season.
“My idea is you don’t win championships in October, but you can lose them if you let the team get away from you and you don’t focus on the things that we have to,” said Plato.