It may not be the colour he wanted – the second time around – but Andrew Milner has taken home back-to-back medals from the U Sports Final 8 men’s basketball championship.
The Antigonish native, who won gold as a freshman with the Calgary Dinos in 2018, finished with silver earlier this month, after a title-game loss to the juggernaut Carleton Ravens.
“It went really well, although it wasn’t the end-result we were looking for,” the 6’2” guard said of the March 10 loss at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
As part of a “great year,” the defending national champions captured the Canada West conference crown. Before the setback to the Ravens, their only loss of the season came against the Saint Mary’s Huskies in pre-season action.
“It is hard to be sad really but, considering our goals and expectations, it is still a bummer,” Milner added of the Dinos coming up one step short in their quest to repeat.
In his second campaign, not including three games in the Final 8 tournament, he played in 16 regular season and five playoff match-ups, averaging 6.5 points and 1.8 assists.
He meshed a career-high 20 points in a November victory over the Alberta Golden Bears.
“I think it turned out well. It was great to be able to contribute to and compete with – day-to-day – this team,” Milner said.
Calgary head coach Dan Vanhooren said the graduate of Rothesay Netherwood in New Brunswick has a bright future.
“Not only as a player on the floor, but also the leadership he will provide our team going forward. He is a tremendous basketball talent, but more so [it] is probably his basketball mind,” he said in an email interview.
“He will be expected to be a lead guard for our program for the next few years and I have no doubt in his capability to perform and exceed our expectations.”
Considering the departure of veterans, such as Brett Layton, David Kapinga and first-team All-Canadian Mambi Diawara – due to graduation, Milner expects to have “a bigger workload” as a junior player.
“I have to stay in shape and continue to build up my body – I have to be sure that I don’t breakdown,” he said, when asked about what he needs to work on heading into next season, considering that predicted increase in playing time.
Like his head coach, Milner also expects his expanded role to include more leadership responsibilities.
“We are going to be young, so I have to be one of those leaders,” Milner said, in areas such as accountability and responsibility.
When it comes to getting better as a player, he agreed it is an ongoing process, including “on the mental side.”
“I need to get smarter and make better reads, which is made much easier by being part of such a great system,” Milner said.
When you spend so much time together, he noted “you get close” with your teammates and coaches.
“I am honoured to be able to make a contribution to and be part of such a great culture,” Milner said.
Calling the Dinos’ program a family, Vanhooren noted Milner has “contributed strongly to the cohesion of our group.”
“After meeting his family back home and seeing where he received guidance as a young man, I can understand why he is a gem in our program,” the U Sports coach of the year for this season said.
As for his second time playing ‘at home’ for nationals – only a couple hours away from Antigonish, and in front of so many family and friends – he described the experience as “awesome.”
“It was great to have that outside support,” Milner said, when asked about the Halifax crowd embracing the Dinos, especially during the championship game.
“Everyone felt so welcome and it provided us with a big boost.”
The Final 8 appearance was not the first trip to the east coast for Milner and the Dinos this season.
Last fall, during a pre-season road trip to Nova Scotia, Milner got to play at home, literally, when the Dinos faced the St. F.X. X-Men on Coach ‘K’ Court at Oland Centre.
“It was kind of a weird feeling,” he said, noting he hadn’t played a game in Antigonish since he was 14 years old.
“It was so special for me – there was such a great crowd, with so many familiar faces.
“I just want to thank everyone for their support,” Milner added.
As for next season, although the Dinos will say good-bye to several pieces to their championship puzzle, Milner noted lofty goals remain. With a young squad, there may be “different expectations,” but the focus will remain making a return to the Final 8.