Island Storm ready to face Windsor Express in championship series tonight

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Charles Reid
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Storm player Dwayne Smith, from nearby Toronto, hopes to see a few familiar faces in the stands

Dwayne Smith

Windsor, Ont., isn't quite home for Island Storm forward Dwayne Smith, but it's close enough.

Especially as the Toronto native is playing for his and the Storm’s first National Basketball League of Canada championship.

Game 1 versus the Windsor Express in the best-of-seven final is 8 p.m. AT., and Smith hopes to see a few familiar faces in the stands at the WFCU Centre, some three hours from the Big Smoke.

“Yeah, I have a couple and friends and family (that should be there). Toronto isn’t that close, but it’s still pretty close,” said Smith in a recent interview.

Smith will definitely notice a well-known face on the Express in guard Papa Oppong, who Smith has known since their high school days in the Scarborough area.

Smith went to West Hill Collegiate in Scarborough outside Toronto and finished high school in Pickering, Ont. He attended Bridgton Academy prep school in Maine to comply with NCAA eligibility rules.

From Bridgton he signed with George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where the six-foot-six, 229-pound forward played 120 games over four seasons before graduating in 2013.

Last October he sighed with the Storm as one of three required Canadians on the roster. Fellow Toronto native Ashton Graham, and Charlottetown’s Doug McKinney are the others.

Smith’s first post-season has been solid off the bench as he’s shooting 44 per cent from the floor and grabbing almost four boards per game while playing steady defence.

But he’s no longer a rookie after a full season and 10 playoff games in the NBL and knows what’s at stake. Game 2 is Sunday in Windsor, then Games 3 and 4, and Game 5, if necessary, are next week at Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown.

“I expect it to be tense. Both (are gunning) to be NBL champions for the first time, both will try their best. It will be an intense battle,” said Smith, who averaged 5.72 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game in the regular season. “I feel like if we can steal a game on the road it should go good for us.”

Not an easy task, however, considering Windsor finished first overall this season with a league-best 29 wins and earned home-court advantage throughout the post-season.

First, it cruised through the Central Division semifinals 3-0 against the Mississauga Power then prevailed in a seven-game division final against the defending-champ London Lightning after losing the first two games at home.

And things get tougher. Windsor is 21-5 this season, including the playoffs, at the WFCU Centre.

One of those home victories was a four-point win over the Storm in November, so the Storm weathering the storm for the opening few minutes of Game 1 is imperative.

“We have to stay composed and play our game. When we play together we’re as good as any team in the league. And you never know, maybe the pressure will get to them,” said Smith. “I’m very focused, keeping myself in the right state to have a competitive edge.”

Games 6 and 7, if necessary, are April 15 and April 17 in Windsor.

Organizations: Windsor Express, WFCU Centre, National Basketball League of Canada Big Smoke Bridgton Academy NCAA George Washington University Eastlink Centre

Geographic location: Toronto, Windsor, Scarborough Charlottetown West Hill Collegiate Pickering Maine Bridgton Washington, D.C.

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