MEN: Upping the basketball IQ
Olds College Bronco men’s basketball is coming off a tough 4-17 record, and head coach Mike Stevens has brought in a crew that he hopes will fit his coaching and playing philosophy.
“It was a tough season all the way around,” said Stevens, who came in partway through the 2015-2016 season, and was handed a team that had worked with the previous coach for several years. “This year it was more about finding guys that would fit my style of coaching and my style of playing a little bit more.”
That style is big on both brawn and brains.
“I like collecting athletes,” he said. “Guys that are a little bit more cerebral with the game; that think the game ñ high basketball IQ.”
To that end, he’s brought in two imports: Lindon Jackson, from Gary, Ind. and Sam Willis, from Minneapolis, Minn., in addition to Seattle-native Abraham Murray.
“They’re a little bit tougher,” Stevens said about the American players. “I think from an early age, they’re really drilled about the roles that they have to play, and so they don’t bristle when you ask them to do something.”
In addition, he said they bring a different perspective.
“They’ve seen guys that have played at an extremely high level,” said Stevens, “and so they’re able to bring a bit of levity to where do we fit on the whole basketball spectrum.”
In addition to the American contingent, the Broncos have standout fourth-year Cody Bouchard returning, who led the conference in scoring and rebounds at the halfway point last year, before breaking a finger and having to sit out the rest of the season.
Stevens said he’s pleased with the team he’s put together, which includes five rookies and five transfers, in addition to the six returners.
“I think we’ve got a lot of flexibility, in the sense that everybody can kind of do a little bit of everything,” he said. “I’m excited because I think a lot of them here want to grow together, so I think we have a team that’s going to be at the beginning of a cycle here.”
He said that while the team is smaller in size, they will be quick.
“We’ll play fast, and we’ll get up and down, so I think we’ll be exciting to watch,” he said.
The Broncos have one Olds player on the roster this year; Olds Koinonia Christian School alum Spencer Parrott, who is returning to town from Briercrest College.
“We connected and he decided he was going to give it a shot and we’re happy to have him,” said Stevens.
Despite coming off a losing season and being part of one of the toughest conferences in the country, Stevens says post-season isn’t a write-off.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I think from our expectations, qualifying for the ACAC championships is a realistic goal for us,” he said. “If you can qualify for that, who knows what can happen after?”
Last year, the ACAC’s Medicine Hat finished second and Red Deer 12th in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association.
“It really makes things difficult. And in our division it’s not that much of a stretch to see a bottom team beat a top team,” he said. “There are no weeks off, there are no days off. If you don’t show up you’re going to get beat and you’re going to get beat badly.”
“But I think with this team, if we’re focused every night, we come in and give ourselves a chance in every game.” WOMEN: A brand new team
The Bronco women are in the process of rebuilding, with a new head coach in place, and nine incoming players headed into this season.
“We only have one returning player,” said Avery Harrison, a 32-year ACAC coaching veteran who took the Broncos’ reins this summer. “So we’re rebuilding; it’s a brand new team. We’re trying to develop our own culture within the team.”
“We’ve got a relatively young team as well,” he added. “We have a number of rookies that are right out of 2A high schools. So it’s a big jump for them.”
Harrison started off the year with rigorous pre-season training for two weeks, to build a good base.
“The one thing that is really impressive with this team is that they have a terrific work ethic,” he said. “We started the year going with two-a-day practices and they never complained, they just gave it everything they had.”
But Harrison says the focus will not only be courtside.
“One of our goals is a 100 per cent attendance in class this year,” he said. “We want a winning attitude, but we want a winning attitude on the court and in the classroom as well.”
The Bronco’s only returner, Alice-Fay Pitts, is headed into her fourth year, and is one of three team captains that Harrison said were “pretty special.”
“Her fitness level has been outstanding, and she’s a great leader by example in how hard she works,” said Harrison.
Harrison also brought in three transfers, including the other co-captains, Brittney Thibeaux who previously played for the North Dakota State College of Science where she was an All-American, and point guard Michaela Allen-Gullion from St. Mary’s University, where Harrison previously coached.
In addition to the three captains, the team also snagged two NAIT transfers, twin sisters Madison and Cassidy Simmonds.
Like the men’s side, the ACAC is one of the strongest in the country, with Lethbridge ranked second in the country last year and St. Mary’s rounding out the top 15. Despite coming off a losing record last year, Harrison said they’ve got their eyes set on playoffs.
“We would definitely like to make post-season,” he said. “Hopefully at that point we’ve improved enough to try and make the run and see how well we can do.”
“Coming off a 5-16 year, and you look at the south division, it’s a very tough division to play in,” he added. “We would have our work cut out for us.”
“We’re working hard, I think we’re getting better. Every night we get a little bit better,” he said. “When October 21st hits, we want to be ready to play.”
“I like collecting athletes, guys that are a little bit more cerebral with the game; that think the game ñ high basketball IQ.”MIKE STEVENS OLDS COLLEGE BRONCOS MEN’S BASKETBALL HEAD COACH