New look for men’s hoops

Strong class of rookies ready to contribute

The men’s basketball team has no opportunity to rest on its laurels.

After a season in which the men made the playoffs only to lose to York University in the Eastern Quarterfinals, head coach Rob Smart must replace seven spots on his roster this season.

This has resulted in a summer of aggressive recruiting with seven freshmen set to join the Gaels in August.

“I think this year they’re easily the best group since the early 1970s,” Smart said. “I don’t think a year where we’ve gotten three or four potentially very good CIS players has occurred in the past 40 or 50 years.”

The new faces will join an established core of fourth-year guard Ryan Hairsine, third-year guard Baris Ondul and 2007 OUA All-Rookie forward Mitch Leger.

“We’re a more athletic team this year, but we’re going to be extremely young,” assistant coach Duncan Cowan said. “It’ll be much more intensive teaching. That’s an exciting challenge.”

Smart said his team’s newfound athleticism will result in more creativity on the court.

“The problem last year was the guys were so skilled that we almost became mechanical with it. I’d like to see it be a little more helter-skelter, where guys use the offence to create their own opportunities.”

Leger, who averaged just under 15 points and seven rebounds last season, is in Kingston for the summer with Hairsine, working on his strength, which he said was a problem last year.

“Everyone at the university level is a lot stronger,” he said.

Cowan said he thinks Leger will have a lot to offer the team next year.

“He’s gained 15 to 20 pounds since Christmas. He’s ready and willing to be a leader for us. There are a lot of things people haven’t seen from him. It’s nice to have that type of player.”

Of the new recruits, the coaches expect 6’5” forward Jon Odgen of Belleville to make the most immediate impact.

Talented above the rim with a knack for blocking shots, Ogden is the most athletic player of the Gaels’ incoming rookie class. Cowan calls his jump shot “one of the most pure shots I’ve ever seen. He’s going to survive early on his athleticism.”

Ogden just hopes to contribute as much as possible.

“I get to join a basketball program that is moving in the upward direction with two coaches who are great teachers of the game,” he said.

Nick DiDonato, a 6’5” guard from Sault Ste. Marie, is hailed as a very smart player with excellent passing skills and a good jump shot. Like Ogden, he hopes to work hard enough to earn some playing time.

“I’m not really expecting anything. I just plan on working hard and staying dedicated,” he said.

Another notable recruit is 6’6” Travis Mitchell, the brother of former Gael Simon Mitchell. Having just spent three years at St. Lawrence College, Mitchell will be entering the CIS after a break from competitive basketball.

Cowan said he’s confident Mitchell can adjust to playing at a higher level.

“He’s the most skilled player in the recruiting class if he can deal with the mental and physical side of it,” he said.

According to the team’s website, the coaches are still pursuing one more significant recruit. Smart said Queen’s lack of basketball success in the past makes recruiting a much tougher job.

“No history of excellence makes it tough to generate interests.”

Both coaches feel that their team might still be one year away from being a legitimate OUA contender.

“We’re looking at being competitive and playing hard. Another year from now we’ll be a very strong team,” Cowan said.

But in an uncertain league with an athletic team, this year certainly won’t be a dull one. Smart put his aspirations more bluntly.

“I’m not really here to lose.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.