SUMMERSIDE — Two games do not make a season, but if the pre-season is any indication Summerside Storm fans can expect to see a little bit of everything from their team in 2012-13.
The Storm launches Year 2 of the National Basketball League of Canada against the Saint John Mill Rats tonight at Eastlink Arena.
The opening tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
“A smarter team and a better quality basketball,” said Storm head coach Joe Salerno in explaining what fans can expect to see from the 2012-13 edition of the Storm. “A bit more aggressive, a bit more size and I think just all around we’ll be a fun team to watch.”
The Storm proved it can score, play strong defence and bring a physical presence in winning both of its pre-season games in convincing fashion — a come-from-behind 106-97 road victory over the Halifax Rainmen, and a 101-83 decision at home against the Moncton Miracles.
“We are pretty deep this year, and we showed that in a couple of pre-season games with almost everybody getting in the books scoring-wise,” said Salerno.
One player who will be counted on to quarterback the offence is guard and team captain Al Stewart, who is only one of three returnees from last year along with Doug McKinney of Charlottetown and Chris Cayole.
Stewart says fans can expect to see a lot more mature team this year.
“A lot of these guys have been around playing a high level of college basketball and pro as well,” said Stewart. “I think teamwork will be the biggest thing (difference from last year), and moving the ball a little more.
“There will be no selfish play.”
So, with nine new players, who should fans watch for?
“Avery Smith has been playing very well this pre-season,” answered Salerno. “He’s a great guy to come in off the bench, and he can play a lot of different roles, the 1 or 2 (point guard or shooting guard).
“Obviously, Louis Birdsong, who missed the Moncton game but had a great game down in Halifax, is someone to keep an eye out for sure. Ayodokun Akingbade is going to be one of the better 5s (centres) in the league.
“All of the guys are going to contribute in their own way, but those are a few guys to keep an eye on.”
The Storm will look to six-foot-11 and 245-pound Nick Evans and six-foot-10 and 235-pound Brandon Hassell to support the six-foot-10 and 230-pound Akingbade at the centre position and provide a strong physical presence that was often lacking last year.
One area the Storm has focused on since the start of training camp is defence. Although the Storm led last year’s seven-team league in scoring — 3,770 points in 36 regular-season games — they also gave up a league-high 3,903 points on their way to a sixth-place finish and a 12-24 record.
“We were worst in the league (defensively), and that will not be the case this year,” said Salerno. “We are working defensively, especially with Saint John coming in.
“They (Mill Rats, 17-19 last year) have just as many weapons as we do offensively with (guard) Anthony Anderson and shooters like (forwards Antonio) Burks and (Steve) DeLuca, and they have a great point guard in Jerice Crouch this year.”
After scoring over 100 points in their two pre-season games, Salerno agrees the Storm has the tools to be an offensive-minded team and play an up-tempo style.
“I think we’ll be very tough to defend in the half court as well,” he said. “We’ve added a few shooters this year, and we have a couple of big men who are a little more of an offensive threat.
“When you have point guards like Al and Avery Smith, they can be really tough to guard. We’ll look to get out and run a lot, and whenever it’s there we’ll take it for sure.”
Summerside Storm’s official roster (No., Player, Ht., Wt., Pos., College, Hometown)
1. Chris Cayole, 6’8”, 215, SF, Saint Michael’s College, Burlington, Vt.
3. Avery Smith, 6’4”, 185, PG, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wis.
5. Antonio Ballard, 6’5”, 225, SG, Miami-Ohio, Lexington, Ky.
10. Al Stewart, 5’10”, 180, PG, Drake University, Chicago, Ill.
11. Willy Manigat, 6’0”, 190, SH, Carleton University, Montreal, Que.
13. Issa Konare, 6’8”, 225, SH, High Point, Senegal.
20. Doug McKinney, 6’8”, 230, PF, UPEI, Charlottetown.
21. Greg Plummer, 6’4”, 205, SG, Eckerd University, Brooklyn, N.Y.
25. Ayodokun Akingbade, 6’10”, 230, C, George Washington, Washington, D.C.
34. Louis Birdsong, 6’7”, 235, PF, George Mason University, Baltimore, Md.
44. Brandon Hassell, 6’10”, 235, C, Penn State University, Dayton, Ohio
50. Nick Evans, 6’11”, 245, C, So. Illinois University, Carbondale, Il.
Head coach – Joe Salerno.
Assistant coach – Mike Leslie.
Manager – Mitch Rowley.
Trainer – Fred Ripley.
Team physician – Dr. Chris McCarthy.