The defending Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) Division 2 boys’ basketball champions are having another strong campaign.
The Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Royals, so far, have posted an 18-4 record this season, including a handful of tournament titles.
“We have a great bunch of kids that are a pleasure to coach,” head coach Jason Dayman said.
This weekend, fans will have an opportunity to see the Royals up close, when they host their annual home tournament – Feb. 8 and 9 – at the Regional gym.
“A lot of shots – they like to shoot the ball,” Dayman said, with a laugh, when asked about their style of play.
“I always say to the guys, ‘If you are open, shoot the ball; if you are not going to shoot the ball, come sit on the bench.’
“We can go in spurts – we are a run-and-gun team,” he added.
Coupled with that explosiveness, the common thread in their success, as Dayman pointed out, has been “focusing on fundamentals.”
“Setting good screens, coming off those screens, setting your man up before the screen comes, boxing out and hands up on defense,” he described.
“I think that, too often, we forget the very basic things that make us good players.”
Although the Royals lost several key veterans from the 2018 championship squad, including high-scoring guard Jack Pittman – now a redshirt freshman with the St. F.X. X-Men – they have a strong, albeit young, nucleus.
Grade 10 players Nicholas Dayman and Anthony Sears – both members of the Team Nova Scotia Under-15 squad last summer – along with Grade 11s Cole MacDonald and Jordan Phee are key leaders and contributors for the Royals.
“They do a great job of pushing the ball forward, from the rebounds, and getting it to the guys running the floor,” Dayman said of MacDonald and Nicholas Dayman.
He added Phee and Sears run the floor really well and are, often, recipients of those lead passes.
“He has been a nice addition to our team,” Dayman said of newcomer Martin Puga Sieiro, an international student and only Grade 12 on the roster.
The Royals have been without one of their seven Grade 10 players all season, with Tyler Pictou on the shelf because of an ACL injury.
“We also have some nice rookies,” the head coach said of the Grade 9 trio – Nathan Dayman, Ben Anthony and Liam Walker.
Noting his focus for the program is adding a couple players each season – in order to give them a taste of playing at this level – Dayman said “we have a nice nucleus of boys to work with moving forward.”
“We are looking really good for the future – we are a young and competitive team,” he added.
But, for this weekend and down the home stretch and into the playoffs, the focus remains squarely on the push to repeat as provincial champions.
“We have had some competitive games and it has been really nice to see the boys stepping up,” Dayman said.
Nevertheless, he added, the Royals have experienced “our ups and downs,” noting a recent loss to the Northumberland Nighthawks.
“We were down 19-2 in the first couple minutes and then we were up 10 and then we were down 10. We were up 10, again, and then we ended up losing by four [points],” Dayman said.
Along with improving their consistency, he agreed, continuing what has been a balanced offensive attack will be a key to success.
“For the most part, we have a couple guys in the 20s and then 15, 14 and 16, kind of thing, which makes us hard to defend,” Dayman said of their scoring distribution.
He noted “when the boys get going, they feed off one another.”
“We have some of our younger guys stepping up in some of the games and leading our team in scoring, which is nice,” Dayman added.
He noted that balance not only makes the Royals difficult to defend, but it also takes pressure off their leading scorers.
Dayman said, even though basketball now focuses – more and more – on outside shooting, their coaching staff continues to stress getting the ball to the basket.
“We are trying to get the guys to go inside a little bit more,” Dayman added.
The Royals will open their eight-team tournament Friday, at 1 p.m., versus the Hants Easts Rural High Tigers.
At 8 p.m., the home side will tip-off against the rival Amherst Vikings.
“It is mostly teams that we are going to play as we head into the playoffs,” Dayman said of the field.
The Tigers and Vikings will be vying for the Northumberland region title with the Royals.
“It really helped us come together – it was a boost for us heading into the regionals,” Dayman said of capturing their tournament in 2018 – a 93-78 victory over the Pugwash Panthers.
The championship game is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
In order to repeat as tournament winners this weekend – and also try to defend their regional and provincial crowns – Dayman said the Royals will have to play “good team basketball,” focusing on the aforementioned “fundamentals, including boxing out and rebounding, along with ball movement.
“Giving up that, kind of, open shot for a really open shot,” he added.
Dayman noted the Royals’ bench play, which he described as “inconsistent,” so far this season, will also be a key to success.
“There have been times that it has been very good, but there have been times where I like to get the bench in – clear the starters – and then, all of sudden, our lead has dwindled,” he said.
As for securing another Division 2 provincial banner for the program – the fifth consecutive – Dayman said “we can’t promise anything, but it is looking pretty good.”
“We do have a talented team and when they play well – and together – they are unstoppable,” he added.
Pool A: Regional Royals, Hants East, Amherst, Hants North
Pool B: Sackville, North Nova, Middleton, Millwood
Friday, Feb. 8:
1 p.m.: Dr. J.H. Gillis vs Hants East
2:45p.m.: Sackville vs North Nova
4:30 p.m.: Hants North vs Amherst
6:15 p.m.: Millwood vs Middleton
8 p.m.: Dr. J.H. Gillis vs Amherst
Saturday, Feb. 9:
9 a.m.: Hants East vs Hants North
10:45 a.m.: North Nova vs Millwood
12:30 p.m.: Middleton vs Sackville
2:15 p.m. 7th Place Game
4th Pool A vs 4th Pool B
4 p.m. – 5th Place Game
3rd Pool A vs 3rd Pool B
5:45 p.m. – 3rd Place Game
2nd Pool A vs 2nd Pool B
7:30 p.m. – Championship Game
1st Pool A vs 1st Pool B