Back in July during the Red Deer College Kings basketball skills camp the head coach said this year was about moving and adding the chess pieces on the board along with tending to some unfinished business from the previous season.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of recruiting during the off season. It was largely fueled by the disappointment of last year,” said Clayton Pottinger, referencing the first round playoff loss to Keyano College.
As far as the unfinished business part (winning a national title) he says the Kings are still in that same boat.
“Our goal has been the win the national championship from the beginning and it hasn’t happened yet so we really still view it as unfinished business,” he said.
The Kings are off to another great start this season with an unblemished 9-0 record and are ranked 3rd in the nation but it’s a scenario which garners a mixed reaction from the coach.
He likes the record as it applies to wins and losses but at the same time he says the jury is still out on this team and there are things this squad needs to do better.
“I guess the best way to put it is I’m not disappointed yet but I’m not satisfied either.”
He’s liking how this team can put a lot of points on the scoreboard, the most points he has seen in his time at RDC and the Kings are able to score in a variety of ways. In spite of that Pottinger says the Kings need to learn how to defend much better which is a bit of a surprise given the fact RDC has given up the fewest amount of points in the ACAC but he still feels the Kings need to do a better job of defending and he has his reasons.
On the scoring side of things the Kings are outpacing the south division teams but Pottinger would like to see his charges get more high percentage baskets as opposed to hitting jump shots which he feels are secondary ways to score. He says a good shooting team can go cold for no reason at all and so having an ability to score in a more reliable way is what’s being sought after by the coaching staff.
“In my experience hot shooting cools off eventually and so you find yourself in a game or a situation where you’re going to have to defend to win. My coaching philosophy is defence wins basketball games and so we just have to learn to defend better.”
There is a strong thread of leadership running through this team and Pottinger says he has seen many players step up into a leadership role. So much so that the Kings have not named any team captains.
“It’s something we typically would have done at this point. We wanted it to happen a little more organically with guys recognizing the need to step up and lead in different areas and it also allows different guys to be leaders.”
Another aspect of not naming captains is it allows those players who are not named captain to avoid the mindset of being just a follower.
“Different guys are stepping up and leading in different things, whether it be being a leader in the classroom or a vocal leader or a defensive leader or a weight room leader. So it gives everybody a chance to experiment with their leadership attributes and we don’t want anybody to shy away from that,” he said.
So far this season Pottinger says he has yet to see that moment where he can smile and say this is the team he was looking for to have on the floor when the year started. The injury bug has prevented that blend from showing up in games.
“We’ve been seeing bits and pieces. We actually were supposed to have some red shirts this year and we had to activate them,” he said. “We’re still waiting to see that so called squad but what we have seen is that a lot of the guys we expected to be in more supplementary roles that they’re actually quite good and they’re coming along so we have a lot of depth.”
Tyler Wise was a first team all-star last year and has been dealing with a back injury so hasn’t played a minute. J P LeBlanc broke his hand in the first game of the season and needed surgery. Benny Bankazo, another starter had a high ankle injury giving him some grief and he came back for his first week of practice earlier in November, was playing well and then he rolls the same ankle. With various other injuries spread around Pottinger says they haven’t had more than 11 healthy players at one time.
Frustrating on one hand but exciting on another if and when this team gets completely healthy to a degree.
“We’re pretty excited for that day to come. Not to discount the work some of the other guys have been doing right now because we are 9-0 but we will be just that much stronger.”
The Christmas break will allow some of those injuries to heal and then it’s back to the business of preparing for a playoff run.
The second half of the season will see more back to back games and he figures those will more closely resemble a chess match with preparation before the first game and then changes made over night in order to be ready for the rematch.
“It allows us as coaches to do more tactical preparation.”
If he ever gets to put his best players on the floor at the same time then who knows what sort of run the Kings can go on and it’s possible the unfinished business can be filed away.