Hamilton, ON- As the OUA goes from two divisions to three, the race to the top of the OUA West figures to be a tight competition. The division features a Western Mustangs program that went to nationals in 2020, a Laurier team coming off a 10-6 season and teams with potential in Windsor and Waterloo.
Can a team make a run to nationals like Western did in 2020? If so, which team would that be?
Preseason Record: 1-4
The Thunderbirds were the only team in the OUA to go winless last season. Under fourth-year head coach Etienne Jacquet, the team has turned over much of its roster since then.
Eleven players are gone while 10 players have arrived. Jacquet has brought in players with university, college and CEGEP experience. One newcomer of note is former Olds College guard Adrian Deere. First-year Winnipeg native Nathaniel Bangura is having a strong preseason, averaging 16 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Two of their key players are from last year. Guard Roman Niro leads the team in scoring this preseason and guard Devin Miron leads the team in rebounding. It could take some time for this new group of players to build chemistry but the Thunderbirds already have a preseason win under their belt: a 87-83 road victory over Laurentian.
Preseason Record: 3-1
After finishing around .500 from 2018 to 2020, the Guelph Gryphons missed the playoffs in 2021-22. Chris O’Rourke is back for his 26th season as Guelph’s head coach and he has most the squad from last year back. However, they do lose OUA West All-Star Malcolm Glanville.
The Gryphons have many veterans but two of the most important are Viktor Nausedas and Keenan Dowell. Nausedas is averaging almost a double-double this preseason, posting career-highs while Dowell is entering his fifth season of university basketball and is an all-around contributor.
One of Guelph’s strengths could be the three as six players are averaging shooting 36 per cent or better from deep so far this year. They’ve racked up wins over Sheridan College, Humber College and Mount Royal in their exhibition slate.
Preseason Record: 4-5
The Warriors haven’t reached the playoffs since 2018 as head coach Troy Stevenson is entering his third season. The team was led last year by veterans Jayden Grewal, Justin Malnerich and Nedim Hodzic as they finished 4-10.
Those players are gone and others must step up in their place. Second-year Josh Akuamoah made his impact as a rookie, winning the team’s Rookie of the Year award but is listed as a redshirt this year. Former Windsor Lancer Kanayo Nnadi continues to improve as he leads the team with 16.5 points per game on average.
The Warriors brought in transfers Sam Pierson (Mount Allison) and Adrian Husic (Queen’s) who could contribute as well. Waterloo played an extension preseason schedule with wins over Concordia and UNB. Having players step up will be crucial for Waterloo to return to the playoffs.
Preseason Record: 6-4
Back in early 2020, the Mustangs were on a roll. They won thrilling games on their way to the OUA finals before falling to Carleton. They beat the Alberta Golden Bears at nationals before finishing fourth.
Last season, the team finished 7-8 before losing to Laurier in the first round. Western still has some players from that 2020 team but lost star guard Omar Shiddo and others. Leading the way is guard Jerric Palma. He was a rotation player in 2020 and is now their leading scorer, averaging 26 points this year.
Palma is joined by fourth-year forward Aryan Sharma and second-year guard Tyson Dunn, who was named the OUA West Rookie of the Year in 2021-22. The Mustangs have already played 10 preseason games and could be a contender for the division once again.
Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks
Preseason Record: 6-3
The Ali Sow era ended on a high with an 10-6 season and a playoff victory. The former OUA All-Star guard has left – along with other important players such as Romello Taylor and Kareem Elliot – but the team has had a good preseason.
Their depth is on display. Five players are averaging double figures in points and six are averaging over four rebounds. Seward College transfer Taye Donald leads them in scoring (a career-high 27 points against UQAM) while Ben Stevens is averaging almost a double-double.
One transfer to watch for is former Waterloo Warriors Justin Malnerich, who has made an instant impact. Malnerich is a former OUA All-Rookie team member and is a capable scorer inside and out.
With victories over Humber College, Algoma, Cape Breton, UQAM, Dalhousie and York already in exhibition play and a Naismith Classic tournament title in tow, the post-Sow future is looking bright.
Preseason Record: 2-3
The Lancers could a breakout team this season. A team that could win the division and make some noise in the playoffs.
After finishing 7-9 last season, head coach Chris Cheng’s team has some significant players back and some key new additions. OUA All-Star Thomas Kennedy had a busy summer in the CEBL and with Team Canada in Globl Jam.
He led the team in scoring with 22.3 points per game last year and could to do so again. The Lancers have some veteran depth as well in guards Xavier Ochu and Najee Brown-Henderson – their second and third leading scorers this season.
Cheng brought in transfers previously (including Ochu) and did so again this summer. Tennessee State guard Daniel Cummings is seeing key minutes already and making his mark. Brown-Henderson came from Northeastern State.
After some notable victories over Western and McMaster last season, Windsor could be primed for some more big wins this year.
Featured Photo: Laurier Athletics