Hamilton, ON- Several different teams have taken turns winning the OUA West or making deep playoff runs. Last season, it was the Windsor Lancers with U SPORTS MOP Thomas Kennedy. Now, with Kennedy gone, is the conference race wide open again?
2022-23 Record: 4-26 (3-19 in OUA regular season)
Preseason Record: 2-5
After Etienne Jacquet and Ryan Vetrie shared coaching duties last season, Vetrie – the long-time Algoma women’s coach – takes charge. The Thunderbirds are coming off a 3-19 season but do feature quite a few returning players. Guard Taleh Wade and forward Shawn Cher-Enfant are two of the main ones. They’ve led Algoma in scoring this preseason as the team’s gone 2-5 with wins over UFV and Laurentian.
Cher-Enfant won the team’s Most Improved Player away in 2022-23 and looks to have taken another step this year, going from 5.1 points on average to 10.8. Algoma’s also turned to a few rookies who’ve made their mark: guard Owen Wisman and Bouluwatife Obasoto (who leads the team in assists).
The Thunderbirds have never reached the OUA playoffs but with this mix of veterans and rookies, can this year be different?
2022-23 Record: 15-13 (11-11)
Preseason Record: 2-7
Chris O’Rourke’s been the head coach of the Guelph Gryphons for a while – 27 years to be exact. However, it’s also been a while since they’ve finished with a winning regular season record – 2008 to be exact. Last season was close though as the team made strides. Guelph was 11-11 in the regular season and 15-13 overall. They won a playoff game for the first time since 2012.
Now the question becomes: can they build off that. Two returning players are at the forefront of that conversation. On one end is second-year guard Dezayne Mingo, who enjoyed a stellar rookie season, taking home OUA Rookie of the Year and a spot on the U SPORTS All-Rookie team. On the other end is fifth-year forward Emmanuel Ansah, who led Guelph in scoring. Both players have seen their points average jump from 12 to 17 this season.
Although Guelph won more games than they lost this preseason, could this be the year the team makes another leap as well?
2022-23 Record: 8-26 (3-19)
Preseason Record: 1-9
The Waterloo Warriors have been the second-best team in their own city for a while now and 2022-23 was no different. While Laurier finished second in the OUA West, Waterloo finished tied for last with Algoma with a 3-19 mark. Head coach Troy Stevenson is in his fourth season as they haven’t made the playoffs since 2018. Their preseason hasn’t been great either as they’ve dropped nine straight games after beating the Saskatchewan Huskies in the season opener.
What about some bright spots? How about second-year local forward Stefan Djukic, who has continued to ascend. Djukic’s production took a big jump from his first to second seasons, earning him the team’s Most Improved Player award. Perhaps he could repeat again this year as his production’s taken another step upwards. Fellow veterans Raf Llorin and Kanayo Nnadi will be there as well. Meanwhile, second-years Andrew Cook and Cristian Craciun are pacing the team in assists. Those returning Warriors will have to lead the way as Waterloo faces a tough battle within their division and their city.
2022-23 Record: 16-17 (10-12)
Preseason Record: 6-1
After reaching the OUA finals and the national semifinals in 2020, it hasn’t been the same results for the Western Mustangs. A 7-8 season in 2021-22 was followed by a 10-12 season in 2022-23 – both first-round playoff exits. The Mustangs ended up fourth in their division last season.
Head coach Brad Campbell’s team will have a core of veterans this year – some of whom were part of that 2020 team. Guards Jerric Palma and Aryan Sharma are two of them and will figure to play a pivotal role this season. Two players who weren’t part of the 2020 team are Tyson Dunn and Noah Otshudi – who both figure heavily into Western’s plans. Dunn was the team’s MVP as well as an OUA All-Star and is their go-to scorer and rebounder. Otshudi is right behind Dunn in points and boards. Together, with their mix of old and new, the Mustangs will look to recapture the magic of three years ago.
Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks
2022-23 Record: 21-12 (14-8)
Preseason Record: 5-1
Under former star guard Ali Sow, the Laurier Golden Hawks established themselves among the OUA contenders. Last season, their first without Sow, they remained in that realm, challenging Windsor for the division and reaching the OUA quarterfinals before losing to eventual national champions Carleton.
The Golden Hawks are back to prove they can once again remain near the OUA’s top class. They’ve had a strong preseason, posting a 5-1 record with victories over Dalhousie, Calgary, Acadia and others. They have Justin Serresse entering his eighth season as head coach.
They have OUA All-Star Taye Donald as well, who is tops among the team in scoring. Beyond Donald, depth could be their strength. Laurier has six players averaging double figures in points and three averaging over five boards. Their ace up their sleeve could be former OUA All-Rookie team guard DeAndrae Pierre, who played at York and Lethbridge before ending up at Laurier.
2022-23 Record: 19-10 (16-6)
Preseason Record: 5-3
What does life look like after Thomas Kennedy? Well, the Windsor Lancers are about to find out. Kennedy’s been such an integral part of their program and it’s been a while since they didn’t have him. His last season was his finest. The Lancers reached the OUA semis – almost knocking off Ottawa – while Kennedy won the Mike Moser trophy as the Most Outstanding player in U SPORTS basketball.
The good news for head coach Chris Cheng’s squad: many of Kennedy’s teammates are back. Among them are guard Xavier Ochu (a former Dalhousie Tiger) and guard/forward Daniel Cummings. One player to watch for is second-year Yohann Sam, who is building off a strong first season. He’s third on the team in scoring and recored 30 points against Calgary on Oct. 15. Two days earlier, Ochu had scored 47 against UNB.
The Lancers have players who score but whether they produce like Kennedy and repeat as division winners remains to be seen. They’ll have some stiff competition along the way.
Featured Image: Gerry Marentette/Windsor Athletics