It’s the last kick at the can for UPEI Panthers Jonathan Cooper and Manock Lual so the pair intend on giving the Atlantic University Sport men’s basketball championship, which starts today in Halifax a good boot.
The fifth-year seniors lead the third-ranked UPEI men’s basketball team into its quarter-final fight today against sixth-ranked the Saint Mary’s Huskies.
Game time is 8:15 p.m.
“Obviously, we’d like the best result possible and get to Sunday’s (championship game),” Cooper said after a Panthers practice this week. “There a lot of doubters out there, and we want to prove them wrong.”
Today’s other quarter-final has fifth-seeded Dalhousie tangling with fourth-seeded Cape Breton at 6 p.m.
The semifinals are Saturday, beginning at 6 p.m.
The final is Sunday at 2 p.m.
In some ways, UPEI (13-7) came out of nowhere to lead or be at the top of the AUS standings for most of the season.
Last year, UPEI had just seven wins and suffered through a dismal seventh-place campaign.
It finished out of the post-season and prompted a head coaching change.
Out went Matthew Davies, coach since 2006, and in came Tim Kendrick, a longtime and very successful men’s basketball coach at Horton High School in Wolfville, N.S., this season.
And for Cooper, who Davies recruited from Etobicoke Collegiate institute in Ontario in 2006, the addition made all the difference as UPEI won its first seven games and made the rest of the AUS pay attention.
“Coach Kendrick, he brought a (mindset) of how to win,” said Cooper, who finished eighth overall in conference scoring this season at 17.2 points per game.
For their efforts, Kendrick was named AUS men’s basketball coach of the year, Lual was named to the first all-star team and Cooper was named second team all-star Thursday.
Lual, a Davies recruit in 2007 from Ottawa, Ont., sees part of UPEI’s success this season in its preparation and, he said, that will determine UPEI’s results this weekend.
“It’s the focus. From coaching staff to players to (trainers). Our standards are really high. I feel like we’re ready,” said Lual, who was fourth in AUS scoring (17.8 points per game) and second in rebounding (8.8 per game). “Everything you do throughout the week in practice, in workouts, in physio, gives you the confidence to say ‘I can do nothing more. I left.’”
The pair speak from experience.
Cooper and Lual have each been to the madhouse that is the AUS championship at the Halifax Metro Centre four times. The furthest the duo has reached is the semifinals in 2009.
To prepare the rest of the squad for the atmosphere this week, Kendrick held practice while loud dance music thumped through the UPEI gym and pulled back the usually closed curtains that split the gym to simulate the more open Metro Centre floor.
Another good thing, said Kendrick, is the even field.
Top-seeded St. F.X. and No. 2 Acadia earned first-round byes, but only 10 points and three wins separated UPEI and St. F.X. and only two stood between the Panthers and Acadia.
“I think it’s wide open. Any one of the six teams can win it,” said Kendrick. “We’ve really approached it as an exciting event. We’d play it in a parking lot if we had to.”
Kendrick said freshman guard Terrance Brown, who suffered a knee injury late in the season, is in Halifax but whether he plays will be a game-time decision. Brown is 13th in AUS scoring and fourth on the Panthers at 15.3 points per game.
AUS Men’s Basketball
u Most Valuable Player - Jimmy Dorsey, Cape Breton.
u Rookie of the Year - Brian Rouse, Saint Mary’s.
u Defensive Player of the Year - Owen Klassen, Acadia.
u Coach of the Year - Tim Kendrick, UPEI.
u Community Service Award - Thomas Filgiano, Acadia.
u First All-Star Team - Jimmy Dorsey, Cape Breton; Owen Klassen, Acadia; Terry Thomas, St. F.X.; Tory Flassett, SMU; Manock Lual, UPEI.
u Second All-Star Team - Jeremy Dunn, St. F.X.; Jonathan Cooper, UPEI; Anthony Sears, Acadia; Robert Nortman, Dalhousie; Alex DesRoches, UNB.
u All-Rookie Team - Brian Rouse, SMU; Ritchie Kanza Mata, Dalhousie; Sean Stoqua, Acadia; Arild Geurgjes, Cape Breton; Marquis Clay
Islanders win awards
in women’s basketball
Susan Canvin of Charlottetown and Tessa Stammberger of Kensington won awards in Atlantic University Sport women’s basketball on Thursday.
The awards were part of the AUS championship tournament in Antigonish, N.S.
Canvin, a member of the Saint Mary’s Huskies, was named to the second all-star team while Stammberger, a member of the Dalhousie Tigers, was selected to the all-rookie team.
Cassie Cooke of Cape Breton was named MVP, Vanessa Pickard of St. F.X. was named top rookie and Bev Greenlaw of Acadia won the coach award.