The 2017-18 St. F.X. X-Men will certainly not lack for experience.
Twelve players return to coach Steve Konchalski’s team which includes five seniors; four of whom were in the starting line-up last season, on a regular basis.
“Leading the way will be All-Canadian and reigning AUS most valuable player Kevin Bercy, a 6’7” forward who averaged 19.8 points per game (ppg) to go along with 11.3 rebounds per game (rpg),” a release from the St. F.X. program reads.
“Bercy also represented Canada in this summer’s World University Games in Taiwan, where he led the team in rebounding.
“Fellow seniors Julius Antoine, a 6’3” wing who averaged 14.4 ppg and 4.1 rpg, Cam Walker, a 6’7” forward (9.1 ppg and 7.3 rpg) and Davonte Provo, a 6’ point guard (5.6 ppg and 3.4 assists per game), round out the returning starters.
“Fourth year senior Jason Hatch, another 6’3” guard, adds defense, experience and a great work ethic to the mix.”
The release continues noting each player who will suit up for the blue and white this season, starting in the front court with 6’6” junior Daniel Passley (3.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
“A physical forward who can step out and shoot the three, along with 6’6” sophomore jumping jack and rim protector Azaro Roker, who led the team in blocked shots. Nick McKee, a 6’5” sophomore with a nice touch and good basketball instincts, will add depth.”
Moving to the backcourt, the release starts with 6’2” junior “sharpshooter” Tristen Ross, whose stat line reads; 10 ppg on 39 per cent from beyond the arc and 88 per cent from the free throw line.
“Along with 6’ sophomore Justin Andrew, selected to the Atlantic Conference All-Rookie team last year. Six-seven sophomore Nick Russell will swing to the small forward position, after shooting 47 per cent from the floor and 37 per cent from three point range last year, while 6’ combo guard Mark Fernandes will give the X-Men another long range shooter off the bench.”
The release states Brandon Velocci, a 6’2” point guard from New York City, returns after a year’s absence, and notes a couple of newcomers.
“Wearing the blue and white for the first time will be 6’1” combo guard Jaydan Smith from Citadel High School in Halifax. Jaydan was a member of the 2016 Nova Scotia team that captured the gold medal at the U-17 National Tournament in the summer of 2016,” the release states.
“Rounding out the squad is 6’4” forward David Inkumsah, a former member of the X-Men football squad who also played a year of hoops at the University of Western Ontario.”
Now entering his 43rd year with the X-Men, Konchalski talked about Bercy’s presence as being a real strength of the squad and also noted, he believes, outshooting could be another strength.
“I think it has improved quite a bit,” he said.
“All these teams we’re playing these days are putting up 35, sometimes 40, three’s; that’s the way the game of basketball is headed. But when you have a player like Bercy, you want to give him the ball inside; so we’re not quite at that stage this year because, again, this year we want to take advantage of an inside threat like Bercy, but we’re a much better perimeter shooting team than, I think, we’ve been.”
As for an area from last season he would like to see improvement on, the veteran bench boss stressed defense.
“Defense for sure,” he said. “We’ve been one of the better scoring teams in the league for the last several years and our defense is an area we’ve put most of our attention towards, in the pre-season, so far. We haven’t seen, necessarily, the results on a consistent basis, but over time.
“And we’re going to have to continue to work at that and, as we get better at that, I think it’s going to determine our season to a large extent. We just can’t go out trying to outscore everyone every night; we have to stop some people and that’s been our Achilles heel over the last few years and we’re doing everything we can to address that.”
Asked about work around the Oland Centre over the summer, Konchalski described it as “motivational” for his squad.
“Every time we walk into the gym, I look around; and this being my 43rd year – I love the Oland Centre, it’s home and I’ve probably spent more time there than anywhere, except my own house,” he said.
“It’s nostalgic to move forward but, at the same time, motivational. It’s such a beautiful floor and the bleachers are so dynamic; not only more comfortable for our fan-base but just the whole atmosphere in the gym is totally different. In our practices, it has been motivational and I think once we get to the games, starting this weekend, it’s going to be, hopefully, an even greater home-court advantage than we’ve had over the years.”
Konchalski said it’s nice to see the work come to fruition as years of talk about refurbishing the gym.
“I understand all the financial challenges that involves, so to have it finally come to fruition is really terrific and, obviously, it’s a great honour to have St. F.X. put my name on the court; it’s about the highest honour I could conceive of,” he said.
The X-Men, 4-2 in pre-seasons games as of Oct. 26, hosted their invitational tournament over the Oct. 27-28 weekend (results unavailable at press time). They begin their 2017-18 regular season this evening (Nov. 1) in Halifax versus Dalhousie.
Their home-opener is a rematch with the Tigers which goes this Saturday (Nov. 4), at the Oland Centre, with tip off slated for 8 p.m.
The X-Men are also home next Saturday versus Acadia, with another 8 p.m. start-time.